The Doc's Late Diagnosis: Aston Villa vs Chelsea at Wembley

Carbon copy. It's the same old new Villa, isn't it? At least at Wembley, where this game followed the pattern of the Carling Cup Final.

Don't be fooled: Villa had Chelsea on the rack for all but ten minutes of the first half (for the pedantic, minutes 30-40). Some of that superiority - and it was superiority - was that Villa were more up for it early on. We worked harder, fought harder, ran harder, tackled harder and were mentally the sharper side.


And I'm not going to subscribe to this nonsense that determination, energy and fight are in some way a negative attribute. They are the "sine qua non", the bedrock of any performance.

But our first half superiority was built on more than that. Villa moved in midfield better than Chelsea, and spread the ball more intelligently and more creatively that the better side. I have to eat my words a little, because Villa's central midfield two of Milner and Petrov completely, utterly outplayed - yes, outplayed - Lampard, Mikel and Deco.

Those three were not at the races. And it wasn't a Chelsea tactic to sit and wait for Villa to tire - Petrov and Milner were just better for most of the first half. Both, in fact, were outstanding.

Yes, we should have had a penalty. Every impartial observer of the game I have spoken to - whatever the shirt-pulling argument - believes it was a penalty. Webb didn't refuse to award it because of shirt-pulling, he bottled the inevitable sending-off which would have followed. It isn't spin, for crying out loud, it's the rules - and Martin O'Neill is well within his rights to feel that his and his team's chances of silverware have now been screwed on two Wembley occasions by weak refereeing decisions early in games.

Incidentally, as well the impartial observers I mention, one rather partial observer, Mr Ray Wilkins, agrees. He was not only clear and adamant that he thought the referee got it wrong, but clearly furious with the way Chelsea had been outplayed in the first 45.

For those commenters - and there are many - who don't know the game beyond its PS3 or Championship Manager versions, Ray Wilkins is the Assistant Manager and ex captain of Chelsea. He used to be called "Butch" for his tackling, or alternatively "the crab" for his tendency to pass sideways. Just so you know.

But it's at this point that I fall into line with some of the comment - and only some of it - which has followed the defeat.

We needed to score in the first half to win the game. Our defence and midfield had done everything to build the platform for a goal or two - and we should, Damian, have been deservedly ahead at half time. But a side which can't deliver decent final balls into the box will disappoint well-constructed moves. And a side with one striker who is big, and another who is fast, is repeatedly going to fail unless those strikers have the predatory movement and finishing ability of their opponents.

Those are where the question marks should be placed.

I don't believe we lost this semi-final because we are a huff-and-puff side with poor footballing ability. We used the ball better than Chelsea for much of the game.

I don't believe, in this instance, that poor formation or use of substitutions cost us the game. Our shape was better than Chelsea's for much of the match.

I believe that we lost the game because we don't have the quality of final ball or finishing to capitalise on dominance built my our midfield.

You have to score when you're on top. If you don't, you won't win. Especially against a side who will score when they finally get their moments.

That's the true story of yesterday. Not refereeing failure. Not tactical failure. But a total lack of ruthlessness in and around the opponents' penalty area.

If Martin O'Neill stays with us, and I think he should, then that's the area which must be addressed urgently. It's been a good season, which still offers opportunity, but we have to be more clinical in the final third.

We weren't outplayed by Chelsea and no, 3-0 doesn't tell the full story one bit. But it tells one story - perhaps the most important one.

You win football matches by scoring goals. And if you can't, you don't.

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