BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 24: Martin Petrov and Kevin Davies (L) of Bolton Wanderers celebrate at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers at Villa Park on April 24, 2012 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Well, we finally got some goals, two in fact, but unfortunately there wasn't enough defensive steel on the pitch to keep Bolton at bay today. Which is a shame as we really as we should be beating teams down by the bottom of the league, comfortably or not.
This one has to be chalked up as a disappointment, with a result to match as far as I'm concerned, with too many people seemingly on holiday mentally. When we were good, we were very good. It just wasn't often or consistent enough.
Anyway, it's about time that we recapped all the action, dished out some player ratings and offered some more thoughts on the game...
Rare sighting alert as Martin O'Neill made significant changes to his starting lineup for today's game with Bolton Wanderers. Everyone, including myself expected Ahmed Elmohamdy and David Meyler to be given some time, but instead we brought back Lee Cattermole to the middle, and Fraizer Campbell was stuck out wide right in Sebastian Larsson's absence. At the back, Phil Bardsley continued to deputise for Kieran Richardson.
Oh yeah, I didn't get to the main news did I? Craig Gordon, the actual Craig Gordon started in goal as O'Neill attempts to work out whether we want him or not next season. Simon Mignolet sat the game out entirely with Kieren Westwood on the bench.
It was Bolton who started the game the better putting us under all sorts of pressure. A few very dodgy back passes to Gordon put him under undue pressure, while a free-kick from Chris Eagles after just three minutes went low and wide of the goal.
With the away side dominating things, Nigel Reo-Coker and Mark Davies were the next to try, both shot from around 25 yards within minutes of each other, Reo-Coker wide of the mark while Davies fired straight at Gordon for a comfortable save.
Martin Petrov's blocked volley inside the area seemed to be the final straw for us as from then on we came back into things a bit. Nicklas Bendtner fired wide of the mark from distance after cutting inside onto his right foot, while a couple of corners by Phil Bardsley of all people were easily nodded clear. At least though we were at the right end of the pitch.
Good work from Bardsley and James McClean down the left hand side lead to an opening for the Manc full-back but the shot was blocked well by David Wheater in the area. Despite beginning to get back in the game at least territoriality, it was only moments later we were behind on the score-sheet.
The opening goal game on 25 minutes via Kevin Davies, who had he been a bit more willing this winter could have been lining up for us. Martin Petrov charged down the left and sent a high hanging cross to the back post. With Matt Kilgallon and Michael Turner twiddling their thumbs, Davies was on hand at the back post to fire past Gordon.
It's poor that it was needed, but the Bolton goal seemed to kick us into life. Stephane Sessegnon appealed for a penalty just a minute after the goal, which perhaps would have been perhaps a little fortuitous had it been given.
McClean sent in a lovely cross which was nodded towards goal by John O'Shea, but the Irishman's header was half a yard the wrong side of Adam Bogdan's goal, and when Sessegnon fluffed his lines just a minute later after some outstanding work down the right form Fraizer Campbell, you wondered whether or not it was going to be our day.
It was, as on 36 minutes, Nicklas Bendtner got us back on level terms in the game. A surging run from midfield towards goal by Jack Colback ended with the new Ginger Prince playing a wonderful defence-splitting pass to the Danish striker, who had one touch before calmly finishing beyond Bogdan from close range.
Hungry for more, Bardsley had his own penalty appeal denied when his shot cannoned off the arm of Tim Ream from point blank distance, while O'Shea latched onto Campbell's through ball to dink past Bogdan, although this time the Bolton defence was on hand to clear.
On the stroke of half time, a reminder that Bolton were still in this came when Kevin Davies played in his strike partner David N'Gog, and the former Liverpool man smashed the ball into the ground before Craig Gordon tipped up and and on to the bar. Not quite the spectacular save he produced last season against Bolton, but just as important.
1-1 at half time, and about even on the balance of play as you'd say that both sides had 'won' half of the first half each, but we were certainly going to have to continue our ascension if we were to take all three points.
The second period was a rather subdued affair until James McClean rifled in a free-kick which had the home fans on their feet after 54 minutes.
Sessegnon was needlessly fouled around 25 to 30-yards out by Kevin Davies. Without Seb Larsson there was to be a new man on free-kick duty. As a collective inner voice around the Stadium Of Light yelled "Please, not Bardsley" up stepped the Irishman to curl the ball, not quite into the top corner, but beyond the grasp of Adam Bogdan making it 2-1.
Fraizer Campbell nearly made it 3-1 after 65 minutes. A terrific run by James McClean set up Fraizer Campbell who opened his body well from a more central position and curled inches over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
Just when everything seemed to be going our way, Bolton equalised with Kevin Davies grabbing his second goal of the game, and it was just as easy as the first one. Sam Ricketts swinging the ball in this time to the 6-yard box where he got the better of Matt Kilgallon with ease to just redirect the ball into the net. Perhaps Gordon could have came for it, but certainly you'd have said Kilgallon could have done a lot better.
As the final throws of the game approached it was really anyone's to win. It looked like it could have been ours when Lee Cattermole intercepted the ball in a dangerous position, played in Bendtner but the striker couldn't get enough on the ball to impose much of a threat.
After that it we really just seemed to huff and puff. Sessegnon provided plenty of running, Elmohamady plenty of indecision but no clear cut chances, and it was the away side who nearly won it on several occasions.
Ivan Klasnic, on as a substitute flashed the ball wide after a dangerous run by Kevin Davies, then once again he got into a good position as Craig Gordon did well to get into position and save with his feet from point blank range. The most clear one however came in the third minute of stoppage time when Wayne Bridge laid the ball back to Gordon sloppily, and the Scottish keeper was thankfully in a good enough position to stop the striker from sealing a win.
Team (Ratings in Brackets)
Starting XI: Gordon (6), O'Shea (6), Turner (6), Kilgallon (5), Bardsley (6), Campbell (6), Cattermole (6), Colback (8), McClean (7), Sessegnon (6), Bendtner (6)
Subs Used: Elmohamady (6), Bridge (6)
Man Of The Match: Jack Colback - Once again, he absolutely bossed the midfield against players much older and more experienced than he. Developing into a model pro, and even more rapidly, one of my own personal favourite players in the team at the moment. Very assured and used the ball well today.
And so the penultimate home game of the season is over, and despite the changes to the side there were some familiar frailties. It just served to further highlight exactly where we are in the league. A middling team, and not particularly consistent enough.
Defensively we completely under performed throughout. Kilgallon looked exactly like Matt Kilgallon, if you know what I mean. A reminder that as far as he's come, he's not the complete article or solution. Perhaps you could say that he's our season personified. Over performed for large periods since the new gaffer came in, and as a result will occasionally fall back into the old ways.
Credit too however to Bolton. They needed a result and they got one, and between the Grandad's Petrov and Davies, they had our number for nearly the whole afternoon.
There's a lot of work to still be done over the summer, and this game just highlighted it further. On the plus side - Goals! Hurray!... Now just to get a win before the season's over.