Aston Villa (3) vs Brentford (3) – A Bizarre Game Befitting our Villans’ Wild Ride

Saturday, April 6, 15:00 – Villa Park

Referee: Michael Salisbury

It’s not like we weren’t warned.  From the height of our euphoric ride up the table, there were experienced soccer wise men predicting that the bubble would burst.  Even Unai Emery tried to lower our expectations, but it became impossible when we beat Manchester City and Arsenal in back-to-back fixtures in three days. 

Having beaten the very best in our 15-game home winning streak, we were off to Brentford to pick-up another three points from a team with significant line-up issues (injuries, suspension) and negative momentum.  Sure enough, we overcame the absence of Douglas Luiz (though barely) but we lost our cool at the end.  Was it hubris because we were in 3rd place?  Why did Martinez get caught up in a spat with Maupay and why did Kamara have to get involved? 

The loss of our defensive midfield anchor for three games concurrent with Torres’ absence due to injury that occurred in that game was enough to unsettle the calm confidence that we had exuded against all-comers.  When Sheffield United “parked the bus” in front of their goal in our next fixture at Villa Park, we had no idea what to do!

Of course, the other factor that came into play was that teams suddenly realised that our Villans had to be taken seriously and that’s what the Blades did.  In fact, they almost won the game when they took the lead in the 87th minute.  That was enough of a distraction for them that they coughed up an equaliser ten minutes later in injury time.

Our Villans never came close to regaining that “home-form” after that, and success on the road was sporadic and opportunistic (e.g., our win at Craven Cottage, 2-1, over Fulham).  While we still had the makings of a top team with Martinez, Konsa, Torres, Luiz, McGinn, and Watkins, we repeatedly lost our poise when scored upon (e.g., against Luton) and relaxed when we scored.

Each of those bad habits we repeated against a very weak Brentford team on Saturday.  The danger is that we will continue to do that and cede all the gains we have made. 

So, what happened against the Bees?  Not surprisingly, the visitors (not able to start Ivan Toney) emulated the Sheffield United strategy, sitting deep and looking to counter.  Our Villans had plenty of possession but were unable to penetrate.  It did not help that a blustery wind made long passes problematic, and corners veer off-target. 

Fortunately, our Villans were patient and when captain, John McGinn, back from his three-game suspension, received a crisp pass from Tielemans near the edge of the penalty area on the right, it was exactly what he needed.  He could immediately control, then step to the left to avoid Reguilón’s attempted block, and curl a perfect whipping cross that only needed the right redirection.  That is Ollie Watkins’s forte.  He rose and headed the ball firmly down to the goalie’s left.  It bounced in front of Flekken and over his outstretched arm before hitting the inside of the post.

The goalie clawed the ball away but only to Bailey who returned the ball to the back of the net.  However, it had already crossed the line off the post and was Watkins’ goal.  Aston Villa 1, Brentford 0 in the 38th minute.

This was our Villans’ first shot on goal and Ollie, himself, had barely touched the ball.  Our Villans went into the dressing room at halftime, pleased to have scored first, usually a harbinger of three points gained.

That seemed even more likely when, shortly after the second half whistle, they doubled their lead.  Again, it was a penetrating ball to the lively Morgan Rogers who was already moving in space when he received the pass at the edge of the area.  He immediately controlled and cut onto his left foot before snapping a powerful shot into the corner of the net.  Flekken could only watch.

Rogers had scored his first goal as a Villan in front of the Holte End!  Aston Villa 2, Brentford 0 in the 46th minute.  It was exactly what the fans, and the team, needed to steady the ship.  When McGinn led a break with a brilliant ball to Bailey on the right wing and our Jamaican international broke toward the goal line a couple of minutes later, there was electricity in the air. 

Watkins was waiting and McGinn unmarked behind him in the penalty area.  Collins, the defensive back covering, got a foot to the cross and deflected it, and the goalie managed to spread his right leg, intercept and gather to end the danger.  That was in the 56th minute and it appeared only a matter of time before our Villans added to their lead.

Then, as often happens in soccer, a team gets a fluky goal.  Brentford got a throw-in deep in our end of the field and the defensive backs: Mathias Jørgensen (aka Zanka) and Ajer, went up to our penalty area to be large targets.  Our Villans were slow in organizing and, Reguilón was able to round Digne (caught on the wrong side of the field) and center with Konsa caught in no-man’s land and Carlos and Torres exposed.

Wissa got his head on the ball, and it came out to Damsgaard who skewed his shot toward Zanka who tried to get his right foot to the ball.  Instead, he missed, and the ball hit his left (standing) leg and the ball, deflected and spinning, went to Emi’s left with him leaning to his right.  The ball was in the back of the net and Brentford were back in the game!  Aston Villa 2, Brentford 1 in the 59th minute.

Not much more than a minute later, the Bees tied the game.  With our Villans seeming to be unsettled at the suddenness of conceding a goal, they allowed Brentford to fashion another chance when Reguilón, again, shaped a cross around Konsa that looped nicely for Mbeumo to pirouette between Torres and Digne and hook the ball into net.  Aston Villa 2, Brentford 2 in the 61st minute.

Our Villans, including Emery were stunned and the fans went silent.  Brentford were suddenly getting every 50/50 ball and playing with confidence.  When they threatened in front of the penalty area, Torres was unusually intemperate and gave up a freekick.  Damsgaard took the freekick that looked like it might trouble Martinez, but Carlos got a head in the way and ceded a corner.

Then, with Brentford having the momentum, Tielemans gave up a freekick and when our Villans turned off, the Bees got on with the game, found Reguilón open on the wing and the Spaniard was again able to cross into the 6-yard box as Torres lost Wissa who casually turned the ball into the net. Aston Villa 2, Brentford 3 in the 68th minute.

In less than ten minutes our Villans’ prospects of gaining 4th spot in the Premier League plummeted.  While there was over 20 minutes left in the game, it appeared the visitors were far more likely to add to their lead than our team would recover. 

Then, Brentford’s Reguilón went down to injury and, soon after, had to be replaced by Lewis-Potter and, in the process, our Villans had an opportunity to gather themselves.    It is likely that the strategic recommendation for the balance of the game was to attack down the right wing and cross towards Ollie Watkins.

Four minutes after the substitution, our Villans tied the game.  Bailey dribbled towards the goal line and hit a right-footed cross to the far post.  Lewis-Potter’s attempt to block turned into a deflection that had the effect of increasing the arc on the ball.  This made it perfect for where our Watkins was positioned.  Zanka was there too, but our Ollie is a master at standing jumps, and he rose well over his marker and firmly headed into the net beyond Flekken.  Aston Villa 3, Brentford 3 in the 80th minute.

With 10 minutes plus injury time remaining, it suddenly became our Villans’ game for taking.  However, in the same way that we could not complete the win when we went up 2-0 early in the second half, we could not finish the Bees off with everything to play for at home against visitors on a four away game losing streak!

Worse still, when the ball came to Luiz in his own half with time for one last attack, he had to compete with Yarmoliuk and that gave Zanka a chance to get the first touch.  Douglas was a split second too late and caught the defender’s shin.  Zanka went down and the referee raised the yellow card.  Our Brazilian midfield engine pulled his shirt over his head.  That meant Douglas, by accumulating ten yellow cards, would miss the next two Premier League games against Arsenal and Bournemouth.

Of course, if we go on to win the Europa Conference League or, miraculously, qualify for the UEFA Championship League, this failure will be mostly forgotten.  Let’s hope we win on Thursday, back at Villa Park, or gain a tie at the Emirates on Sunday at the Emirates against Arsenal.

Aston Villa (4, 4, 1,1): Martínez, Konsa, Carlos, Torres, Digne (Moreno 91′), Bailey (Diaby 91′), Tielemans (Durán 91′), Luiz, Rogers (Zaniolo 69′), McGinn, Watkins.

Unused Subs: Olsen, Chambers, Kesler Hayden, Iroegbunam, Kellyman.

Brentford (3, 5, 2): Flekken, Zanka, Ajer, Collins, Roerslev, Jensen (Onyeka 86′), Janelt, Damsgaard (Toney 81′), Reguilón (Lewis-Potter 76′), Mbeumo (Maupay 86′), Wissa (Yarmoliuk 81′).

Unused Subs: Strakosha, Ghoddos, Baptiste, Ji-Soo.

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