Aston Villa (6), Brighton (1) – A dream win?  Yes indeed!

Saturday, September 30, 12:30 a.m., Villa Park Stadium

The only surprise concerning Villa’s leading goal-scorer in recent years scoring a hattrick against Brighton Hove Albion, last Saturday, was that it was considered a surprise!

We Villa fans learned an important lesson last season.  Once Ollie Watkins gets rolling, the goals will keep coming – in bunches, often early in games.  So, when he scored the winning goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, in fact the only goal in the game, after suffering a drought, of sorts, in having played all but a fraction of the previous Premier League five games without scoring, we pretty well knew what would happen next.

We had a clue in that he did score an impressive hattrick at Hibs in a Europa Conference game, two of them headers.  Another clue was the stream of confidence that showed in our handsome striker’s smile that, then emanated through Villa fans and Villa supporters around the world.  Watch out Brighton, Ollie’s back!

It was not a thin veneer of confidence because, despite Brighton’s sparkling start, our success in head-to-head contests and our awesome fan support gave us reason to believe.  A bonus was the option to start the same eleven who did the job against the Blues.  As for any nervousness caused by our loss against the same Chelsea club in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday was easily eradicated by looking between the uprights and seeing the imposing figure of, arguably, the world’s best goalie, Emi Martinez, who had been rested for the midweek fixture.

It was a beautiful day in Birmingham at kickoff and our Claret and Blues started with a spring in their step and the faithful already in good voice.  Within seconds we were pressing deep in the Brighton end and Dunk, usually so calm, took his eye off the ball and let it go out for a throw-in much to the delight of Villa fans.

True to form, Brighton settled and created a chance out of nothing when Estupiñán slipped through our backline and Billy Gilmour found him with a perfect chip.  With Martinez advancing and McGinn recovering, the Ecuadorian only had a split second to create a real opportunity and Emi easily blocked the effort.  That was in the 6th minute.  Little did we guess that this shot would be one of only three for the Seagulls in the whole game.

Konsa, who has been a defensive standout in every game, seemed to impose his will on this game, always being in the right place at the right time  First, he brushed-off a challenge from Ferguson, then, in response to the Seagulls high press, Ezri carried the ball effortlessly through their line and hit a perfect pass with the outside of his right foot for Diaby to run onto in a space that Estupiñán had vacated (in order to press). 

Diaby, for once, chose the wrong route, cutting inside to shoot with his favored left foot where he ran into traffic.

That was in the 13th minute.  What was significant was that our Villans maintained possession, patiently passing until an opening presented itself with Brighton spectating.  Eventually Diaby passed to Kamara who passed to McGinn and, immediately, Cash broke behind the defense.  McGinn’s pass was on its way, perfectly weighted. 

Cash, who had the jump on Mitoma, and the whole back line, looked up at the goal-line, and pulled back a pass that tantalised goalie, Jason Steele, but was unreachable.  Ollie, with a yard on Webster and Dunk, confidently guided the ball with the inside of his left foot into Steele’s far right corner from 6-yards out.  It was unstoppable.  It looked so easy and so inevitable.  Aston Villa (1), Brighton (0) in the 14th minute.

Perhaps it was that post-goal relaxation moment because just one minute later Digne allowed March to slide past him and get the jump on a 40-yard pass from Dunk.  Fortunately for Villa, March is neither Watkins, nor Diaby, and he allowed our quick-to-recover defenders to smother the danger.  Even better, Cash found Diaby who fed the ball to Luiz who found Zaniolo on the wing.  Not for the first time, our newly acquired Italian attempted to dribble when a pass was the more prudent choice and he lost possession.

It was the kind of day, that even our bad decisions worked.  Before Brighton could progress, our high press had given us possession and another opportunity and Watkins just missed Steele’s top left corner from outside of the box.

A few minutes later Veltman not only failed to control a pass, but he also let it ricochet to Diaby who immediately released Ollie down the wing that Veltman had vacated.  Dunk was forced to come to stop Watkins’ approach on the Brighton net with the scampering Veltman also trying to recover.

When Ollie turned inside, it was enough to force both defenders onto their heels and our striker used them as stanchions to guide his shot into the near corner of the net.  Even Steele was on his heels and his dive to his right never looked like it would reach the ball.  Ollie had doubled his tally and the lead.  Aston Villa (2), Brighton (0) in the 21st minute.

Brighton appeared stunned and another miscue allowed Diaby another shot on target that Steele did well to save.  With Brighton unable to retain possession, our Villans kept up the pressure.  A long clearance from Martinez to Watkins was, for a change, reached by his marker who headed back to the middle of the park.  With two Brighton players closer, Luiz was quickest and strongest to react, and he was able to get the ball to Watkins.  This time Ollie, selflessly, set-up his partner-in-crime, Diaby who lashed a first-time bullet that Steele could only beat back to him.  This time our magnificent French acquisition was wayward in his shot only for the scrambling Estupiñán to deflect the shot into the corner of his own net.  Aston Villa (3), Brighton (0) in the 25th minute.

Our Villans, full of joy, immediately lost concentration and March had the easiest of header opportunities just outside the 6-yard box yet managed to head it over.

Villa fans might have been expecting their team to take the foot off the pedal and slowdown.  Far from it.  When McGinn hustled to join an attack the beleaguered Estupiñán blocked his progress and gifted our Villans a free-kick 15-yards outside the penalty area.  With just about everyone expecting McGinn to try a standard effort to the top-corner, it was time to try one of the bag-of-tricks that they have been practicing.  This one saw, McGinn leave it to Luiz to casually lob the ball over the defensive wall for Diaby to run under.

Unfortunately for Moussa, Steele started at the same time and arrived at the same time., and they collided.  The next freekick, in a similar location, saw the wall block Digne’s shot only to give Luiz a decent chance to volley just over. 

Even as the first half entered extra time (mostly for VAR verification), Konsa had so little defensive work to do that he found the energy to show his excellent footwork.  That enticed a frustrated Seagull to foul him and for McGinn to find an opportunity to catch Brighton’s defense thinking about the break and not about defending. 

Watkins corralled the pass out of the air and took off from Veltman whose effort to foul Ollie was another failure.  Ollie’s attempt to score a hat-trick in the first half came to naught, but there was another 45 minutes to play!

Roberto De Zerbi surprised nobody with his three team changes for the second half.  Lamptey for Estupiñán, Pedro for Welbeck, and Fati for Ferguson.  None of the replaced players could feel aggrieved given their minimal impact on the game.  What was surprising was how little they contributed.  Much of the credit should go to our Villans as they dominated the game.  That was despite having the visitors dominate the time of possession, but that possession was almost entirely between the two penalty areas.

From the second half kickoff, each of the substitutes demonstrated that they had been primed to force their way into the game and they had an impact.  Our Villans were somewhat rattled and when Pedro took a quick freekick Digne made a mess of a clearance and Fati found himself with a loose ball just outside the 6-yard box that he scooped into the net.  Aston Villa (3), Brighton (1) in the 50th minute.

Emery made just one change in response to the new lease on life of Brighton and it turned out to be an effective one.  Jacob Ramsey who assisted on both goals in last year’s fixture was brought off the bench for his first involvement in a Premier League game this season (having been injured playing for England’s Under-21 team during the summer).  He replaced Zaniolo who had played well in the first half but found himself chasing the game in the second.

Amongst other useful attributes, Ramsey is considered one of the quickest players in the squad and has the highest pass accuracy rating, especially in the opponent’s third of the field.  He combines excellent defensive cover and goal assists.  He also has a calming affect.

Ramsey had an almost immediate impact.  In the 64th minute he made his first significant contribution.  With Villa defending he was able to gain control of the ball just outside our penalty area.  With all his teammates closely marked he found a channel to dribble around three opposition players to the touchline and then directed a firm pass to Ollie Watkins’s left foot.  Ollie cushioned the pass and waited for an opponent to run into him.  When Webster did so, our man of the hour went down and received a freekick.  A period of Seagull’s pressure had been quelled.

Shortly after, a give and go with John McGinn saw Watkins with a shot on goal opportunity in Brighton’s penalty area, albeit in traffic.  His low shot was on-target to Steele’s left but was redirected over the goalie by Webster’s attempted block giving the goalie no chance to make a save.  Ollie had his hattrick.  Aston Villa (4), Brighton (1) in the 65th minute.

That effectively put any chance of the Seagulls mounting a recovery.  They were physically, and emotionally exhausted.  Without too much difficulty, Ramsey scored his first goal of the season (not bad considering it was his first game and a substitution opportunity at that).  It was beautifully struck from outside of the penalty area curving around poor Webster and deflecting in off the bottom of Steele’s left post. Aston Villa (5), Brighton (1) in the 85th minute.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Luiz manage to add to his consecutive games with a goal total, now up to five, when he picked up the rebound from a Steele save that prevented Ollie notching his 4thAston Villa (6), Brighton (1) in added time.

Villa fans were left wondering what next this Villa team can conjure up at Villa Park after a three-goal barrage against Crystal Palace that started in the 87th minute and this magnificent display (19 shots, 9 on goal, and 6 in the back of the net) against the 3rd team in the Premier League whose totals were, in contrast, (11, 3, and 1). 

With West Ham arriving on October 22nd, we won’t have long to wait.  Of course, there is the Europa Conference League game and the trip to Wolverhampton to deal with first.

Aston Villa: Martínez, Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne, Kamara (Tielemans 90′), Luiz, McGinn, Diaby (Durán 79′), Zaniolo (Ramsey 57′), Watkins.

Unused Subs: Olsen, Carlos, Traoré, Chambers, Lenglet, Dendoncker.

Brighton: Steele, Veltman, Webster, Dunk, Estupiñán (Lamptey 45′), Hinshelwood (Baleba 87′), Gilmour, March (Adingra 62′), Welbeck (Pedro 45′), Mitoma, Ferguson (Fati 45′).

Unused Subs: Verbruggen, Julio, Dahoud, van Hecke.

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