November 1, 1897
Liverpool were in sore straits for their match with last year’s League champions, for to face the Villa on their own ground minus the services of Archie Goldie, Joe McQue, and Frank Becton was to destroy whatever chance of success the team might otherwise have possibly possessed.
Goldie was suffering from an injured foot, and Billy Dunlop was from a similar reason prevented from filling the vacancy, whilst McQue and Becton were also the victims of previous disablement.
Consequently Matt McQueen was called upon to operate at right full back, John Holmes reintroduced to the half-back line, whilst Andy McCowie again partnered Bradshaw on the left wing.
Considering the disadvantages accruing from this wholesale rearrangement, the Anfielders have little cause to be downcast at the result of the game. At no period did the Villa gain the ascendency over their opponents, except in the vital matter of ability to score, and the game was more often waged in the home territory than in that of the visitors.
There was, however, a considerable difference in the style of play adopted by the two contestants, the home forward being smarter on the ball, and racing away with greater avidity in the direction of goal than did the Liverpool front rank.
When the Villa did get in the vicinity of Storer they made their presence felt, most of their attacks requiring the greatest coolness and resource in repelling. On the other hand, the Liverpool forwards, after working well up to the home goal, were easily driven away, and the backs in the majority of cases were allowed plenty of time to clear.
Had they exhibited the same dash and decision when within the twelve-yards’ line that they effected in less dangerous quarters the result might easily have been more favourable to them, and the fact that, although they had quite as much of the game as their opponents, whilst George was only occasionally seriously called upon to exercise his ability demonstrate the nature of their attack.
More determination to score when favourably placed is required instead of being repeatedly driven back unsuccessful for want of an extra effort, and this, combined with a more accurate control of the ball when near the opposing custodian, would give the defending backs less chances for repelling their assaults.
The combination of the forward quintet seemed somewhat disorganised at times, and they did not show the same class of work as their opponents.
McCowie again played well, but obtained little assistance from Bradshaw, who gave a very erratic display. The outside man was by no means at his best, and his movements, in contrast to what is usually witnessed from him, were marked by a curious intermingling of alternative good and feeble work,
The right wing did fairly well, but on the whole there was little accomplished about which one might work up an average amount of enthusiasm.
The halves played capitally, each one getting through a tremendous amount of work, and they accounted in no small measure for the moderate success of the home forwards.
At full back, McQueen did quite as well as was expected, and he was well covered by Tom Wilkie, who gave a really splendid exhibition. The latter had to extend his sphere of work to both wings, and his powerful kicking and effective tackling stamped him as the best back on the field. He made no mistakes, and was rarely beaten, even by the clever Villa right wing.
Harry Storer had some stiff work to do, and did it well, and the last goal ought certainly to have been prevented by the three men in front of him at the time the ball was tipped through, this score being a decidedly simple goal.
The Villa were a long time in settling down to their work, and judging from last season’s performances against Liverpool, it must be admitted that when they did get going they were by no means the effective combination of that time. They were very fortunate to win by three goals to one, for their play did not deserve this difference in the result.
The work of the forwards was more skilfully executed than that of their opponents, and with the fine turn of speed which is the pre-eminent feature of the whole five, their attack was more incisive when in operation.
There was, however, a lack of that smoothness which is necessary to a more pronounced superiority, and on the left wing John Cowan was far from satisfactory, his shooting being very feeble. J. Sharp should make a capable centre, though yet far from polished, and the best of the forward rank was represented by the right wing, Athersmith and Devey, this pair being very clever.
Crabtree gave a capital exhibition of half-back play, and Burton was very successful against the Liverpool left wing. The Villa backs began in very unsteady fashion, their kicking being ill-directed and lacking in force, but later in the game they appeared more at ease, though, had they been played on to more by the Liverpool forwards, their success might have been less satisfactory.
George had not much to do in goal, though he stopped one or two shots in a cool manner, and will doubtless make a satisfactory custodian, but he was not tested sufficiently in this game to merit any pronouncement on his capabilities.
The rulings of the referee caused the Birmingham crowd considerable disgust, owing to the repeated manner in which their forwards were pulled up for offside play. Some of the decisions were undoubtedly peculiar, but the chief cause of the spectators’ disapprobation would probably be found in the fact that their team had not everything their own way. Their speedy forwards were undoubtedly offside in the majority of cases in which the referee interfered those whose celerity is their chief characteristic being the greatest offenders.
It was a very even game, but neither side showed its real form, and there was nothing of a brilliant nature throughout the whole proceedings. Had Liverpool equalised in the second half, when they had more than one chance of doing so, there might have been witnessed superior football for the remainder of the game.
As it was, the contest terminated as it had begun, and, if the Villa mean to retain possession of the proud title of champions, they will have to show vastly different form from that witnessed in Saturday’s game.
One cannot leave the subject without bearing some testimony to the magnificent enclosure at Aston. The arrangements in every respect are excellent. A fine playing portion, surrounded by an oval-terraced embankment, and a superb stand replete with every modern requirement, tend to make the home of the Villains a remarkable one in every respect.
(Liverpool Mercury: November 1, 1897)
Harry Storer, Liverpool (Lloyd’s Weekly News: December 1, 1895):