Brentford (1), vs Aston Villa (2) – Our Villans figure out how to win ugly on the road

Sunday, Dec 17th, 14.00 – GTech Community Stadium

Referee: David Coote

Most Villa fans were nervous about this fixture against a well-coached team that, against whom, we have had little success in their stadium.  That we recently barely made it out of Bournemouth with a point (thanks to a last-minute brilliant header by Ollie Watkins) suggested that we needed to make sure that we played at a commensurate level as we had against Manchester City and Arsenal if we were to get any points.  Consistency on the road, has been a challenge for our Villans.  Without the awesome Villa fans, we usually struggle.  Without two of this season’s stars (Douglas Luiz and Lucas Digne to yellow card suspensions) was something we had not had to deal with before this season.

Furthermore, having Youri Tielemans unable to play due to injury and Bailey only able to come on from the bench, forced Emery into a starting eleven that would have not been his preference.  Jacob Ramsey and Alex Moreno each became starters for the first time this season, while Matty Cash and Moussa Diaby were also selected having been non-starters against Man City and Arsenal.

Sure enough, Brentford had their own issues, with many first team players absent for different reasons.  Both teams’ fans were expecting to see their teams give it there all, but with little anticipation of to what end.  Sure enough, from the kick-off it was obvious that both teams were motivate but neither was in-synch. 

Ramsey and Moreno both showed rustiness from lack of match-play.  As for Cash and Diaby, it was evident that there were aspects of their play that did not meet the standard that they had showed earlier in the season.  The only recent goal between them was by Diaby against Luton.  Cash had also shown a propensity to lose possession when challenged while Diaby’s weakness to shoot or cross with his right foot had limited his overall contribution.

Still, our Villans started off at a high tempo and put the Bees under immediate pressure.  Most of this came down the left wing with Moreno showing his eagerness to show his value to the team.  Then, one well-worked corner saw Diaby find Carlos near the near post.  The imposing defender held-off his marker and was able to find Kamara with a better angle on goal, but immediately three red shirts converged on our talented Frenchman.  No problem, Boubacar instantly redirected the ball to Moreno who had found a perfect spot to shoot and Moreno did, with gusto.  Unfortunately, there was a lack of concentration and the ball went high over the bar.  That was at the 5-minute mark. 

A couple of minutes later, Brentford had a much better chance to score.  Carlos slid a ball down the right wing to Cash and he showed too much of it to Ghoddos who pinched it and fed Lewis-Potter, who laid, then, laid it off to Janelt who had found room on the left.  Janelt, in turn, carried until he found an open teammate entering the penalty box.  The pass was perfect for Damsgaard who had all of Emi’s left side to bulge the net.  Instead, he hit a tepid side-footed shot that our goalie dropped to his left and comfortably block.   Torres was there and he calmly looked up and found Watkins running into space at the halfway line and found him.  Still, a big let-off in the 8th minute.

Shortly after, Watkins and Ramsey featured prominently together in two attacks.  First, a lay-off by Watkins was picked up by Jacob gaining speed with each step.  A desperate defender slid and took the legs from under our England Under-21 international, nowhere near the ball.  The referee waved off the foul and allowed Brentford to counterattack leading to the Bees gaining a corner.  Nothing came of the corner, but Brentford put on a high press close to our right corner flag.  Watkins who had come back for the corner was able to help Cash regain possession then feed McGinn.  John, breaking forward, saw the speedy Ramsey in-flight and fed him entering the Bees’ half in the inside left channel.  Moreno raced up outside of Ramsey and, at just the right time, Ramsey released a pass for Moreno to get behind the fullback.

Meanwhile, Watkins raced from deep in Villa’s rear and caught up with the play and was available for a horizonal pass across the crease that would have been a simple tap-in for our England international striker.  Instead, Moreno to wound up for a shot.  The nearest defender was able to slide in the way to block the shot out for a corner.  Watkins looked understandably frustrated.  That was in the 13th minute.  Fortunately, it was not the last opportunity for Watkins to score.

Up to this point most of Villa’s attacks have been initiated by Torres who leads the Premier League in a number of carrying and passing categories.  In the 24th minute he should have registered another assist.  His cross from the left was a little high for Watkins but perfect for Cash running towards the Bees’ keeper’s left post.  With nobody recognising the danger, Matty reached the ball in the 6-yard box only to see his shot go wide of the post and not into the net.  This was almost identical to the cross in the Burnley game that he scored from.

A couple of minutes later, an even better set-up occurred when Carlos passed to the edge of the Bees’ penalty area that Watkins was able to rise to above his much taller marker, Ethan Pinnock.  Ollie executed a beautiful, cushioned header for his buddy, Jacob, to run onto and shoot on goal.  The combination of the ball’s high bounce and excellent recovery by Pinnock resulted in the shot going well-wide.  That would likely have been a goal for Ramsey last season but, thanks to his injury, Jacob has only one Premier League goal this season, something he will likely correct in the fixtures to come.

Villa continued to look dangerous, and Brentford continued to defend effectively.  When Villa’s hosts did, occasionally, mount a counterattack, Carlos was strong and Torres showed excellent anticipation and composure, while Konsa was his usual rock-solid.  Emery was probably pleased with the defensive performance in the first half, though a little frustrated at the lack of goals to reflect the team’s greater possession and chances.  Then, the Bees stung!

For once, just before halftime, a Torres pass was not perfect and Ghoddos anticipated and stole.  Diaby was forced to foul to prevent a break, but Nørgaard took a quick-kick and sent Wissa off with a one-on-one with Carlos.  Wissa got off a shot that went off Torres’s body for a corner. 

From that corner, the ball was partially cleared towards Moreno on the edge of the area.  Alex, waited for it but Lewis-Potter was more pro-active. He rushed in and fired the ball home with Martinez hidden behind a bunch of bodies.  Brentford 1, Aston Villa 0 in the 45th minute.

In the three minutes of first-half injury time, Villa came close to tying up the game.  It involved the usual suspects.  Despite, his team having just given up a “soft goal” and with less than a minute on the clock, one Villan was still giving his all.  That was Ollie. The ball was in Brentford’s possession and had been passed back to Pinnock.  With Watkins pressing, the Jamaican international lateralled a pass to Ben Mee who controlled and set to put a long ball down the left wing and end the half.  With Ollie closing in, Mee rushed his pass, and the ball went straight into the stands.  The clock had passed the 48-minute mark and Konsa took a quick throw to McGinn as Brentford manager Franks showed his frustration that Villa would get one more bite at the cherry.

From inside his own half on the right, McGinn saw Ramsey making his move across the halfway line in the center-circle.  Our captain’s pass was on-the-money, and Jacob was on his way only for Zanka to attempt to dispossess but the ball bounced back to our local hero.  Ramsey continued at pace towards the penalty area drawing Mee over, before moving the ball to his left foot and hitting a blistering shot aimed at the goalie’s top left-hand corner.  Mark Flekken, the Dutch international keeper, threw himself and managed to reach the shot with both hands and divert it for a corner.  The referee immediately blew his whistle for the end of the half.  Still, our Villans had shown what they planned for the second half.

From second-half kickoff, Villa appeared more focused on creating chances and Brentford more focused on defending their lead.   The Bee’s back three of Zanka, Pinnock, and Mee were impenetrable until a well worked corner saw Ramsey place the ball on a perfect trajectory for Kamara to race in to make a header.  The very quick Wissa saw what was happening and raced to block the passage of his fellow Frenchman and they had an ugly collision.  Kamara did get a bullet header away before the impact and it grazed the outside of Flekken’s right post with the goalie nowhere near.  That was in the 59th minute.

That seemed to shake the home team and they started to press Villa back and won a couple of corners.  From the second, Ghoddos passed a short corner to Damsgaard whose cross had the right amount of whip and power for Wissa to meet not too far away from the near post, Martinez’s left.  The World Cup keeper showed why he is so important to our Villans diving quickly and parrying away.

It was time for Emery to bring on his fresh troops and, not surprisingly, it was two dangerous forwards, Leon Bailey and Jhon Durán to relieve Matty Cash and Moussa Diaby who had been mostly ineffective.  Before either subs could get into the action, Ben Mee went into a kamikaze slide to tackle the newly arrived Bailey.  If Bailey had not anticipated and switched his weight onto his right leg, it is likely that his left ankle would have been broken by the sole of Mee’s cleats.

Fortunately for Villa, Bailey was fine, and the Bees were immediately down to ten men, courtesy of a red card.  Franks quickly adjusted his squad bringing Collins for Wissa, but the change did not affect the momentum that was definitely in Villa’s favor.  Bailey’s ability to swing crosses over from the right had the Bees on their heals and Moreno took advantage sneaking up the outside of a line of Villains unnoticed to power a header home.  Brentford 1, Aston Villa 1 in the 77th minute.

Shortly after, Emery replaced Torres, who was showing some discomfort, with Zaniolo.  That turned out to be a shrewd move as the Italian was full of energy and adventure.  He forced his way down the left touchline and attempted a cross that was blocked for a corner.  Lacking Luiz and Digne, Ramsey had the responsibility for taking corners and he zipped over another well-worked set-play.  Again, it was aimed to Kamara, but this time to his feet.  Boubacar flicked it on, and Watkins ran in to meet it with his head in the 6-yard box.  Flekken barely waved at it.  Suddenly it was Brentford 1, Aston Villa 2 in the 85th minute.

What a huge boost for our Villans.  They had ticked another box on their to-do list.  Recovering from a deficit on the road, now done.  In the process, their away record moved into the positive territory.  Nine games, three losses (Newcastle, Liverpool, and Nottingham Forest), two ties (Wolves and Bournemouth), and now four wins (Burnley, Chelsea, Spurs, and Brentford).

With the unfortunate spectacle of a massive brawl that resulted in Kamara receiving a red card and being unavailable for three games, the satisfaction of gaining another victory was tainted.  Still, between Luiz, Ramsey, Zaniolo, and Tielemans, we have plenty of midfield coverage.

Even better, we have three players whose performance was enhanced by the playing time: Ramsey, Moreno, and Zaniolo.  Perhaps we are ready for the next step!

Brentford: Flekken, Zanka, Pinnock, Mee, Roerslev (Olakigbe 89′), Damsgaard (Onyeka 68′), Nørgaard, Janelt (Yarmoliuk 88′), Ghoddos, Lewis-Potter (Maupay 68′), Wissa (Collins 76′).

Unused Subs: Strakosha, Goode, Peart-Harris, Baptiste.

Aston Villa: Martínez, Konsa, Carlos, Torres (Zaniolo 81′), Cash (Bailey 65′), McGinn, Kamara, Ramsey (Dendoncker 90′), Moreno, Diaby (Durán 65′), Watkins.

Unused Subs: Marschall, Proctor, Chambers, Lenglet, Iroegbunam.

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