Date: 20th August 2007 at 8:16am
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As the rabid optimism of Saturday AM is replaced by that usual Sunday afternoon bite of reality, it`s become clear never to let a good performance against a frankly shocking Bolton side be a benchmark for how the season is going to pan out. As we met a side who probably share similar expectations to ourselves, the league has suddenly become a whole lot more difficult.

Plonked down watching Citeh v Yoonited and Victimpool v Chelski it became blindingly clear just how far we have to go. Some of the play in the latter match was tremendous, not least when you look at how quickly Liverpool broke for the Torres goal, whilst Micah Richards leading a rearguard battle for the Blue half of Manchester was an eye-opener. Chuck in some of the one-touch passing by Fergie`s lot and you got a microcosm of just how tough it is going to be to steal into one of the top four slots. Anyone expecting to batter our way in amongst the ‘Big Four` had a realism check come 7pm on Saturday.

Sam kept the same line up against Villa that turned out against Bolton and, some might say, rightly so. It seemed a decent attacking line up and that old adage about not changing a winning team came straight to mind. Instantly though you could tell Villa were going to be a different proposition.

Carew was muscling in against our centre halves, Viduka was getting a hammering from Laursen and Mellberg and all over the park they seemed well up for it. Agbonlahor and Young were breaking at pace against Carr and young Chuck.

Opportunities were few and far between but Villa definitely shaded the first half. Our only chance of note was a belting Rozenhal drive that was well stopped by Carson. Villa meanwhile saw Agbonlahor miss a sitter after a strong break, whilst Carew had a chance tipped over and Harper blocked smartly from Laursen.

Half time came and went with nothing changing. Our midfield tackled and scrapped brilliantly but seriously lacked creativity. It meant nowt for the Duke or Oba to feed on and, as both made way for Shola and Owen over the course of the half, the replacements enjoyed little service either. Harper had to save really smartly from Reo-Coker whilst Milner saw a chance go begging.

Other than that Sam could only really take away the positive of an encouraging partnership between Rozenhal and Tayls at the heart of the defence. The Czech fella is looking particularly at home in the Premier League and I think, for the £2.8m we`ve spent on him, he`ll turn out to be a barnstorming summer signing.

Overall then – probably a touch of a let down for the opening game. The lack of a full-house and the lack of atmosphere were a bit of a niggle but, as always, we`ve got a seriously winnable game against the Beasts next week. With an extra weeks rest for most and, hopefully, a creative signing or two in the middle and at right back, we could go into the game with a squad packed with talent and an urge to put right the blank of this week. The goals issue will keep rearing it`s head until we finally break that duck at home. With Sunderland`s slaughterers Wigan up next at SJP let`s hope that`ll be the one at last.