Aston Villa (2) vs West Bromwich Albion (2) – Who Would Have Thought?

The first surprise of this local derby fixture was the Villa line-up.  It should not have been since the three players who dropped to the bench, did so with reason.  Cash was under suspension for his double-yellow red against Man City and Nakamba and Davis played exhausting minutes against the Lancashire team.

The real surprise was that Villa manager Dean Smith gave Ross Barkley another run when logic suggested that any change in form should be presaged by signals and none of those had been forthcoming.  It probably owed more to the lack of fit alternatives.  There was one source of positive intrigue on the Villa bench.  That was the appearance of young Brazilian, Wesley Moraes, after a long-term injury recovery.

Another concern was that with only three days’ rest, and not a lot to play for, the team might be slow getting going from the kick-off.  As it turned out, most Villa fans would have been pleased to see their application.  Likely, the derby aspect had its desired effect.

Watkins was back to his best at fielding long balls down the left wing and finding teammates to lay off to.  Barkley was the grateful recipient on a couple of occasions and looked comfortable.  The Chelsea loanee is less comfortable without the ball or when his in his own half.  In fact, he never appears well-connected to the ground – the antithesis of John McGinn – and was bundled over by Yokuslu with a little nudge to the back.  Since it was a minor touch and not called, the Turk had a clear path to the penalty area, forcing McGinn to make sure he did not progress, but at the cost of a free kick.  Villa’s high line worked, with Watkins tracking former Villan Robinson, to negate the threat.

Then a sloppy pass by Pereira gave Traore a chance to run at the Albion defense and feed Watkins as he found room on the right.  A quick cross to Barkley, heading toward the penalty spot, appeared dangerous until Barkley ran under the pass.

Another sloppy play by Albion led to Konsa receiving the ball with enough time to survey.  There was nothing available downfield, so he found Matt Targett to his left, Targett found El Ghazi cutting inside from the left wing and he one-touched to Luiz, who did the same to McGinn.  Running into the Albion half the Scot pinged a pass out to Watkins on the right wing.  Ollie ran with the ball until he saw Douglas Luiz pass him by and fed his teammate as he entered the Albion penalty area.  With Elmohamady overlapping on the right, Luiz, faced with four blue and white striped shirts executed a neat back heel to Ollie who stroked a pass into Traore who had stationed himself just inside the box.  The Burkinabe finessed the ball with the inside of his standing left foot to redirect a pass to El Ghazi poised to shoot from just outside area.

Ten sumptuous passes had accomplished the desired effect, an opportunity for the Dutchman to fire at the bottom left corner of the net.  Credit to Connor Gallagher for his speed to get a foot out to block the shot.  Fortuitously, the ball rebounded directly to Barkley.  Spinning from the ricochet, the ball ran to the left on Ross and, as he set to shoot, Ajayi came to block but caused the Villa loanee to stumble and fall.  There was definite cause and effect, and the referee did not hesitate to point at the penalty spot.

After VAR confirmed the call, it was El Ghazi who stepped up to find that same low left corner of the net.  Of course, he needed to fake goalie Sam Johnstone to the right first.  El Ghazi did and collected another goal from yet another proficiently taken penalty.  Aston Villa 1, West Bromwich Albion 0, and in only the 8th minute of the game.

On the next Albion attack, Villa almost gave up the lead.  Luiz, showing his lack of composure around the penalty area, clumsily clattered a Baggie and Pereira stepped forward.  From just outside the box, the Brazilian curved an exquisite strike that cleared a leaping Mings and dipped too close to Martinez’s top right-hand corner for his comfort, but he was rooted to the spot.

Still, the Villa continued to dominate possession and look dangerous with McGinn being a major influence.  Then, out of nothing, Albion were awarded a penalty.  Good play by Gallagher led to Robinson receiving the ball on the left and, with Maitland-Niles, they exchanged passes into the box.  Konsa, in the process, brushed against Maitland-Niles’s shoulder and caught his ankle.  The loanee from Arsenal collapsed to the ground and the referee pointed to the spot.

It appeared a compensatory call to balance the Villa penalty, but Konsa appeared to be stunned by it.  Pereira did not send Martinez the wrong way, but a left-footed blast to the goalie’s left that was rising was unstoppable.  Aston Villa 1, West Bromwich Albion 1, with 23 minutes on the clock. 

When, five minutes later, Elmohamady unnecessarily fouled Robinson on the wing, the freekick did not seem to be in a particularly dangerous location.  That was until Pereira, again, laid a perfect cross for Yokuslu to run onto and head down toward Martinez’s right-hand post, only just wide of it with the keeper stranded.  The Turkish international put his head into his hands realizing how, with no challenge from a Villan, he should have nailed it.

Shortly after, Villa attacked down the right before switching the ball to the left for El Ghazi to carry towards the edge of the box before letting go a powerful drive toward the inside of Johnstone’s right post, only for Johnstone to be ready and to make an excellent save.

Another attack, spearheaded by Targett, saw the fullback find Traore coming in from the right and clear.  The Burkinabe international instinctively returned the ball across the six-yard box for a tap-in but neither Watkins nor any other claret and blue was moving, and the chance was missed.

Konsa, still smarting after the penalty call joined the offense and after a give-and-go delivered a dangerous cross from the right, but an Albion block came at the cost of a corner.

Five minutes later, it was Albion threatening as Pereira mesmerized Luiz in the corner then passed through Targett’s legs.  Konsa stuck out a desperate leg, only to redirect the ball to a waiting Maitland-Niles who had time to place a strong shot from just inside the box.  A smart save by Martinez prevented what looked like a certain goal.

There was five minutes left in the half and the confidence boost of scoring the equalizer was still percolating as Pereira lashed a freekick from the right against the underside of Villa’s crossbar and back into play.  A period of Villa attacking made the mood of the Villans a little less anxious going into the break.

The Baggies’ desperate need for three points towards catching Brighton, there only chance of avoiding relegation would have informed manager, Dean Smith, that his team would be getting opportunities for more goals as long as they showed patience, something to pass onto his team.

That strategy became academic just a minute or so into the second half when Johnstone got plenty of wood on a pass back as he hoofed the ball deep into the Villa half.  Konsa, always impeccable, backed up and brought the ball under control with his right foot, but slipped on the turf.  Diagne gathered the ball and set off with Robinson into the penalty area.  Konsa and Elmohamady were stranded and only Mings was between the two Baggies and the goal.

As Diagne shaped to curve a shot around the advancing Martinez, Mings slid across to block.  A good shot by Diagne would likely have been thwarted but Diagne’s shot was heading wide of the far post and Mings’s slide redirected the ball back and into the goal.  What a gift! Aston Villa 1, West Bromwich Albion 2, and Villa’s season started to go from disappointing to ugly.  The most reliable center back duo in the Premier League had coming crashing to earth on the same play.

West Brom decided to protect the lead, a risky proposition with so much time left in the game.  Villa without having to worry about counterattacks, dominated possession and created several scoring opportunities.  Barkley had a shot defected wide by Bartley, Traore hit the outside of the post from a tight angle, and Watkins, normally so clinical, drove the ball right at Johnstone from point-blank range.

Then Villa almost gifted a game-clincher to the Baggies when Konsa inadvertently headed towards his own net from a corner.  As the ball bounced off the bar, Martinez somehow managed to push it back onto and over with two visitors hungrily waiting to convert.

Many of Villa’s best attacks came down their left flank and Targett looked set to ping another cross into the 6-yard box when Furlong slid and blocked.

Then the Baggies broke out and Gallagher found Phillips in space down the left and he held it well for Pereira to arrive before cutting it back.  The Brazilian struck the ball brilliantly and it was headed to go in the net off the underside of the bar before Martines leapt up to save.

Good news for Villa in the 83rd minute.  Smith brought on Davis for Barkley and you could imagine the fans cheering.  His teammates showed a surge of energy.  Keinan had an immediate impact, feeding Watkins down the left wing.  The cross was off target but Villa maintained possession and Davis found the ball at his feet in front of goal.  He pivoted and drove a left foot shot, but right at Johnstone. 

Then McGinn, who was gaining in influence, found Targett with a delicious chip pass, but the cross was cleared for a corner by an aware Ajayi.  The corner came to Konsa who finally got in a decent header that was blocked just in front of Johnstone.  It rebounded to Davis who, again, controlled and pivoted but his shot crashed against the outside of the post.

In the 90th minute, Wesley Moraes, after a 16-month injury absence, was added to the mix!  He had four minutes of injury-time to make a mark.  Meanwhile, McGinn tried a couple of long crosses from the left to the far post.  The second one was on the money, and Watkins rose to head it back into the “mixer”.

When the ball left Watkins’ head, Davis was at least 15 yards away, but he has an intuitive sense of where he should be.  As the ball came to Bartley, who was facing his own goal, he took it on his chest with Johnstone barely 3-feet away.  In the split second that the ball hovered, Davis arrived and athletically lifted the ball with his left foot over the astonished goalie.  Davis finally got his first Premier League goal in the second minute of the four allotted.  Aston Villa 2, West Bromwich Albion 2, with still two minutes to play.

As the Baggies appeared to be in a state of shock, the Villans try to steal all three points.  In fact, it was Wesley who had the opportunity and he put in a solid header only for Johnstone to save comfortably.

Game over, and a draw against the Baggies at home, even after scoring first, suddenly felt like a win.  Smith could not avoid making a wry smile but not until Sam Allardyce had exited.  Suddenly a trip to Everton did not seem such a big deal.  Heck, the Villa did no worse against Man City than PSG and, at home to West Brom, they did better than Chelsea!  I think we are due a win!

ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Emiliano Martinez; Elmohamady, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett; Bertrand Traoré, John McGinn, Ross Barkley, Douglas Luiz, Anwar El Ghazi, Ollie Watkins

SUBS: Heaton, Taylor, Hause, Jacob Ramsey (s, 77’), Engels, Davis (s, 83’), Nakamba, Wesley (s, 90’), Philogene-Bidace

West Bromwich Albion (4-1-4-1): Johnstone, Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Townsend, Gallagher, Yokuslu, Maitland-Niles, Robinson, Pereira, Diagne

SUBS: Button, Robson-Kanu, Livermore, Phillips (s, 67’), Diangana, Sawyers, Peltier, O’Shea, Grant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *