Aston Villa miss chance for momentum in FA Cup with draw at Wycombe
Remi Garde's winless run as Villa manager continued after the struggling Premier League side drew 1-1 with the Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup.
The result was fair, though Wycombe will savor the forthcoming replay far more than Villa's players and manager, who had hoped for a straightforward victory to ease some of the despondency currently lingering around the club. For large periods of the match, Villa did a passable impression of a Premier League team in control of the tie and took the lead through Micah Richards.
The critical moment came when Ashley Westwood and Matt Bloomfield challenged for a high ball. The ball was missed by both, but referee Michael Oliver ruled that Westwood's trailing arm had caught Bloomfield and promptly awarded the penalty. Joe Jacobsen struck his kick past Mark Bunn. That Oliver had missed a blatant pull on Richards' shirt earlier, just as he was set to tap in from 6 yards, only added to Villa's frustration.
Yet Villa can't complain of being unlucky. They barely tested the Wycombe goalkeeper, Alex Lynch. Had Wanderers been forced to turn to 46-year-old coach-turned deputy keeper Barry Richardson at any stage, he probably would have coped just fine.
There's no shame in failing to beat League Two opposition away in the FA Cup. This competition is famous for upsets -- on Friday, Liverpool were held by Exeter City, 11 places below Wycombe in the table -- and there will be more surprising results in this and later rounds. In isolation, it's not the worst result in the world, but the trouble is that it is further evidence that Villa are operating with a huge lack of confidence. They missed a big chance to create some momentum ahead of Tuesday's league fixture against Crystal Palace.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Mark Bunn, 6 -- The backup goalkeeper did his chances of displacing No. 1 Brad Guzan no harm with a confident display. Although rarely tested, Bunn dealt well with several dangerous crosses from corners.
DF Micah Richards, 7 -- Starting at right-back for the first time this season, the Villa captain showed why many believe this to be his best position. Richards scored with a calm finish, made several penetrating advances upfield and deserved a penalty when he was tugged back just before halftime. Injured twice, he was substituted with 10 minutes to go.
DF Jores Okore, 7 -- Engaged in a strong physical battle, Okore was steady throughout and cleared off the goal line barely 60 seconds after Wycombe had leveled, a crucial interception.
DF Ciaran Clark, 6 -- Relatively untroubled during the game, Clark swept up neatly alongside Okore.
DF Kieran Richardson, 7 -- It was a good performance from Richardson, who might have done better with a half chance midway through the first half -- he chipped it straight into the hands of Lynch -- but made a couple vital interceptions. He got forward well too.
MF Leandro Bacuna, 6 -- It was a low-key but reasonable performance from Bacuna on the right of Villa's midfield. He tested Lynch with an on-target free kick and dropped in at right-back after Richards went off.
MF Ashley Westwood, 7 -- Westwood saw a lot of the ball and used it well, operating from the base of the Villa midfield diamond. He conceded the penalty, though, after what looked like a needless challenge.
MF Idrissa Gana, 7 -- Always willing to drive forward with the ball, his breaks from midfield disrupted Wycombe, and he covered a lot of ground running between the lines. He lacked that touch of class when he reached the edge of the opposition penalty area.
MF Carles Gil, 6 -- Saturday was a mixed afternoon for Gil, who created the goal for Richards with a composed assist -- holding the ball and waiting for the right moment to release the pass -- but also frustrated at times. He was withdrawn with 20 minutes to go.
MF Scott Sinclair, 5 -- There was one bright moment when his early right-wing cross fizzed across the 6-yard line, but otherwise he was a virtual spectator.
FW Rudy Gestede, 5 -- Gestede has gone without a goal since September, and unless he shows better movement and hunger, he'll see the season out without scoring again. He failed to put League Two defenders under enough pressure and was very easy to mark. He did have two decent touches: the flicked header in the first half, which nearly fell nicely for Richards, and a late shot, which deflected onto the angle of post and bar.
FW Jordan Ayew, 7 -- He came on for Sinclair after 70 minutes and was really lively, shooting just wide of the far post after a strong run and missing a close-range header. He unsettled the Wycombe back four, and Garde might think twice about resting him again in the replay.
MF Jordan Veretout, 6 -- On for Gil after 70 minutes, he was involved frequently, and his arrival allowed Villa to regain midfield control.
MF Jordan Lyden, N/R -- On for Richards after 83 minutes, the Australian teenager made a brief senior debut.
Kevin Hughes covered Premier League football at Match magazine and was later deputy editor of Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @KevHughesie.