Crystal Palace (1), Aston Villa (2) – Villa Continue to Roll

Our Villans started off on Saturday against Crystal Palace as if it was a continuation of the previous Brighton victory – confidently.  That was aided by the loss of Palace’s highly rated Danish international, Joachim Andersen, to injury necessitating bringing in James Tomkins as his replacement.  They were probably just as pleased to see Jordan Ayew on the bench, and not starting, considering the goals he has scored against us, Palace manager Patrick Vieira preferring the speedy Olise.

Gerrard probably surprised many by bringing in Ashley Young and Leon Bailey for two of the off-season star signings (Danny Ings and Emi Buendia).  Of course, everyone gave him the benefit of the doubt, such is the instant credibility he has generated.

The pregame furrowed brow that Gerrard sported was likely concern at to whether his Villa team could control the midfield and limit Palace’s number of quality opportunities to score.  Within a few minutes, the “gaffer” must have relaxed somewhat when Ramsey beat Gallagher to a loose ball in a dangerous area and the Chelsea loanee had no choice but to hack his opponent down.  As an indication as to who would win the battle of the 20-year-olds, this was it! 

Soon, the tide almost swung the other way when Olise swung a pass into Zaha, just inside the Villa penalty area.  Anticipating a first-time shot both Cash and Konsa converged to block.  Instead, the Ivorian international faked both defenders by pulling the ball onto his left foot and, with the far corner of the net open, dragged his shot teasingly wide.  This was a very similar scenario to the recent Eagles game against Man City when Zaha’s shot found the net, a game that Palace went on to win in Manchester.

Villa found the ideal way to punish such profligacy. Just two minutes later they won a corner on the right wing and Ashley Young took it according to the script: aim between the penalty spot and the 6-yard box for Tyrone Mings, the dominant figure on the field at 6’5” to attack.

Conscious of their fragility from set-pieces, Kouyate attempted to get to the ball first but only succeeded in creating a three-man collision comprising Tomkins, Mings, and himself.  The ball, meanwhile, traveled untouched to Matt Targett perfectly located 10 yards from the goal.  All he had to do was control and whack, and he did so perfectly on the half-volley.  The ball had skimmed into the back of the net before Guaita could even move.  Crystal Palace 0, Aston Villa 1 after 15 minutes.

Not long after, our Villans had a similar opportunity from the same corner set-up only this time Mings started further back and was racing in when the ball arrived on his left foot. He decided to hit it first time, inspired by his goal against Brighton.  Unfortunately, the execution was as bad as the predecessor’s had been excellent. 

Still, our Villans seemed destined to add to the lead and, when Watkins was bundled over in the box, it seemed likely to come through the obvious penalty.  The first-time referee (in the Premier League) seemingly did not want to chance his future on an unpopular call and, so, left it to the VAR official.  That official, decided to avoid grief, and declined to act.  Ollie was furious as was understandable.

Not to worry, soon after Watkins was trapped against the right touchline by two Palace defenders but found McGinn with a clever little pass.  Even more clever was the Scot, who turned Guehi inside out and arced a perfect shot to the Palace goalie’s top right corner.  Guaita stayed rooted to his line and was relieved to see it pass, just outside his right post – possibly pushed by the strong cross field wind.  McGinn kept that in mind for later.

Equally reassuring as our midfield domination, was the sight of Mings holding off, and shrugging off, the powerful Christian Benteke as they competed for a through ball. Mings made it obvious who was top dog.  Going in at the halftime break, this was a reassuring vignette to savor.

The Eagles’ fortunes did not improve after the break.   When awarded a freekick within his range, Milivojevic recklessly went for a clever pass that was intercepted and forwarded to Watkins.  Ollie had plenty of running to do, but that was not a problem as we saw against Brighton.

When our young striker reached the Palace penalty area, he made the same cut to his right leaving the loan defender behind and, with nobody between him and the goal, he must have been seeing another wonder goal.  Meanwhile, the frantically embarrassed Milivojevic was a yard behind and beaten when Watkins cut across and cut him out of the play.  Just outside the penalty area, the former Serbian international cynically pulled Ollie to the ground.

It was a very similar scenario that saw Manchester City’s Aymeric LaPorte red-carded by Andre Mariner for dragging down Zaha, despite Pep Guardiola’s vehement objections.  There again, Mariner has 16 years under his belt at the highest level.  Michael Salisbury, as noted, was refereeing his first Premier League game ever.  Milivojevic was given a yellow card only.  Gerrard, meanwhile, kept his composure, judiciously.  Ashley Young came close with the freekick. 

In the 60th minute Vieira wisely removed Milivojevic and replaced him with Eze for his first appearance this season after injury.  Somewhat surprisingly, Gerrard replaced Jacob Ramsey with Douglas Luiz.  Of course, it made total sense given the need to get Luiz game time and the advantage of having a fresh Ramsey against Man City.  Still, it did not seem that smart when Luiz was given a red card barely five minutes after joining the game.

Fortunately, the VAR official noted that the initial perception, with Kouyaté writhing in pain, involved very little impact and lots of theater, and suggested the young referee take a second look.  The red card was pulled for a yellow card and Luiz breathed a sigh of relief.

Without Ramsey patrolling, the Eagles conjured up a couple of opportunities with Benteke’s bicycle kick being more dramatic than Edouard’s scuffed drive from a clever Gallagher pass, but Martinez gathered in both with aplomb.

El Ghazi, was then called upon for another cameo appearance replacing Ashley Young who, like Ramsey, received a warm round of applause from the traveling Villa faithful.

With five minutes left, the substitutions paid off.  From nothing all three substitutes combined with Matt Targett to cut through the Palace defense like a warm knife through butter and laid a pass to John McGinn that he swept into the top corner of the net from 20 yards.  He appeared to factor in the cross-wind as the ball started outside of the post before curving just inside, leaving Guaita at full-stretch unable to reach.

Our Scottish international star made sure that we knew how good his eyes are, and his eye-foot coordination in his victory romp.  Yes John, it was absolutely stunning and perfect. Crystal Palace 0, Aston Villa 2 after 86 minutes.

With a little more than a minute of the injury time left, the Eagles had all but conceded defeat and no forwards bothered to chase when they gained possession on the right.  Kouyaté aimed a cross into the 6-yard box and a hopeful Guehi stuck out his leg at the near post and the deflection managed to evade Konsa and Martinez. Crystal Palace 1, Aston Villa 2 after 90+5 minutes.

The Eagles never did regain meaningful possession as our Villans kept them in their left-wing corner area and a full field from Martinez until the final whistle.  A satisfying and competent win that augurs well for the challenges ahead. 

Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Tomkins, Guehi, Mitchell, Gallagher, Milivojevic, Kouyate, Olise, Benteke, Zaha

Unused Subs: Butland, Hughes, Schlupp, Clyne, Kelly, Riedewald

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Mings, Konsa, Targett, McGinn, Jacob Ramsey (Douglas Luiz 67′), Nakamba, Bailey (El Ghazi 77′), Watkins, Young (Buendía 85′)

Unused Subs: Steer, Sanson, Hause, Davis, Tuanzebe, Carney Chukwuemeka,

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