Brighton (1) vs Aston Villa (0) – A Missed Opportunity

Sunday, May 5, 14:00 – Falmer Stadium

Referee: Robert Jones

Our Villans’ victory over Brighton last September at Villa Park (6-1) and the starting positions in the Premier League (4th versus 11th) suggested that we should see this game as a gimme, but there is an important factor called exhaustion.  As Sarah Winterburn noted in Football365 about our team:

They can be very thankful that there is no chasing pack for the final Champions League spot because they look exhausted. John McGinn, Ollie Watkins, Douglas Luiz and Ezri Konsa have all now played over 4000 minutes of football this season and it shows.

As well as being fresh for the reverse fixture, we also benefited from having the visitors score an own-goal, deflect a Watkins left-footed shot into goal, and from the talented Kamara and Tielemans running miles in midfield, and Jacob Ramsey getting a goal and an assist just when Brighton looked like they might make a comeback.

On Sunday, poor Ezri Konsa was run ragged by the young Ivorian star, Simon Adingra, who oozed class and is on Chelsea’s most-wanted list to replace Mykhailo Mudryk.  The decision to select Konsa at right back over Cash made sense, but even Ezri is human.

Ironically, it appeared that our Achilles heel would be the lack of Emi Martinez in goal but his replacement, Robin Olsen, turned out to be our man of the match.  Perhaps, it was one more injury that sapped the strength of our players.  That would have been the loss of Morgan Rogers in the 22nd minute to a muscle problem.  Up to that point Rogers had been our Villans’ most energetic player and our most prolific scorer of late with goals against Brentford, Bournemouth, and Chelsea in the last month.

That Emery lacked a comparable talent off the bench and sent on Matty Cash in his place, spoke volumes about the squad.

So, what happened in the game?   Out of the blocks, our Villans seemed to be back to the form they showed at the Emirates three weeks ago.  Rogers was particularly lively forcing Buonanotte into catching his foot in the penalty area.  Morgan went down looking for a penalty but referee, Robert Jones, was not interested.

Then a couple of minutes later, it was Rogers, again, who made himself available just outside the penalty area and carrying the ball into the box before finding Diaby with room on his left.  Moussa tried to power a ball through the 6-yard box but goalie, Verbruggen, anticipated and dropped onto it.

While this was encouraging, Brighton responded in-kind.  A long pass over Konsa saw Adingra reaching it first and, cutting into our Villans’ penalty area and getting a decent shot away but Olsen was well-positioned and handled it comfortably.

Olsen had to be more acrobatic just a few minutes later when João Pedro muscled Watkins out of possession and Adingra picked up the loose ball and penetrated to the edge of the box, evading McGinn, Luiz and Torres on the way before hitting a powerful drive that Olsen did well to reach and push aside.  Olsen’s problems were not over as João Pedro was able to send a whipping cross to Groß at the far post.  Fortunately, Digne made an excellent defensive header to clear for a corner, the first of the game.  That was in the 8th minute.

Soon after, Diego Carlos was able to intercept a Brighton pass and saw Watkins ready to break for goal but overhit the ball by more than 20-yards.  Frustrating for Watkins and all Villa fans.  Despite our Villans’ pressure, the Brighton defense was able to break-out and find Adingra behind Konsa.  That was defended well, but Brighton won another corner from which Webster’s header was only marginally over the bar.

When Rogers went down on his own, it took a while for Emery to decide who to bring on in his place and play restarted with our Villans short-handed.  When Cash came on, he lined up on the right to give Konsa some support with the pesky Adingra and some spark with his ability as a natural winger which is how Matty started his professional career.  Diaby played behind Watkins as a secondary striker and Bailey switched to the left side.

They continued to press Brighton but with little success.  The blue and whites’ back four were skilled enough and our Villans were lacking in energy.  In contrast, only Torres, from our backline, appeared comfortable in carrying and distributing. Our Villans’ tentativeness slowed the game, and Carlos, whose passing confidence had deserted him, relinquished forward distribution.  Similarly, Diaby was tentative in receiving passes and missed, or lost, possession frequently.  With only a quarter of the game completed, that was disconcerting.  It appeared that it might take a mistake by one of the combatants to spark something and that is what happened in the 42nd minute. 

When Leon Bailey attempted a quick turn near the halfway line, he lost his footing and Buonanotte jumped on the loose ball.  Credit to the hosts for being on the front foot.  The Argentinian zipped a pass to Welbeck who saw Adingra cutting behind Carlos from the left and fed what would have been a perfect pass.

The problem was that Olsen had anticipated the pass and was already well off his line and he raced to the edge of his area, sliding to intercept.  Adingra did his best to bail-out but caught our backup goalie’s upper arm.  Fortunately, Olsen was able to continue and to excel.  He was needed a few minutes after play resumed.

A couple of minutes into injury time, Brighton executed a crisp series of passes on their right that ended with João Pedro curving a tantalizing cross towards the right that Adingra, yet again, had beaten his markers to reach.  Unfortunately for the winger, he was at full stretch and Olsen had spread his ample frame to block access to his goal.  The goalie gathered and initiated a counterattack. 

Cash raced down the right with the ball but, with nobody open passed to Konsa who passed to Diaby who lost possession.  Brighton did much better with their possession.  They moved the ball down their right and, when they saw no opportunities, switched to the left. 

They fed the ball to Adingra who cut inside, unhampered by our Villan defenders, and looped a perfect chip over our backline for Pascal Groß, who had slipped through and was one-on-one with Olsen.  The German cushioned the pass with his right foot and shot with his left.  Olsen slid over in tandem with Groß and spread himself taking the shot on his legs and deflecting for a corner.  A great save with all our defenders caught off-guard.

The second half started with our Villans showing more energy that was characterised by Cash’s attempt from distance in the 57th minute that faded away from the top right corner with Verbruggen struggling to reach.  However, the hosts were not gracious, and they defended well, and our Villans ran out of steam without the encouragement of a real chance to score.

Brighton showed how with an excellent move from Dunk, in his own penalty area passing to his left to Igor who chipped a pass up the line for Welbeck to chest under control and immediately swivel and pass to Adingra unfazed by McGinn in close attendance. 

The Ivorian was off to the races again, to the center of the park leaving our Villans trailing before splitting Carlos and Torres with a perfect pass for João Pedro to run onto.  Step by step, our Spaniard kept up with the Brazilian but could not prevent him from getting a left-footed shot that cleared Olsen’s spread-eagled leg but was blocked by his strong hand.  That was in the 63rd minute.

When our Villans were awarded a freekick a minute later, they wasted the opportunity first, by failing to clear Dunk on the edge of the area and when Brighton’s centerback’s headed clearance came back to McGinn he did a better job with a pass that Lucas Digne would have been able to run onto if not for our own Diego Carlos blocking out Groß as he turned to cover.  Freekick given and a promising situation sabotaged.  Yikes.

Then, in the 67th minute, Adingra floated over a pass for Enciso to run onto behind McGinn.  Our captain seemed to think he could reach it with his head, but when he tried to jump he lost his balance and ended up sprawling.  The Paraguayan had control on the edge of the penalty area with Carlos racing back but, instead of waiting for Carlos to run by, and rounding him, rashly shot high and wide.  The youngster immediately hid his face at his lack of composure.

Not to worry, our Villans were not threatening, and Brighton finally beat Olsen and Enciso was part of the build-up.  This time he was set-up by João Pedro, but his shot was blocked by Carlos.  The rebound came to Adingra in the inside-left channel.  The man-of-match waited for Igor to race past him to his left and fed the fullback.  As soon as Igor reached the ball, he zipped a cross to the 6-yard box where all Groß had to do was dangle a leg to deflect past Olsen.  Groß had score in the 71st minute until it was overturned for offside by the closest of margins by VAR.

The reprieve motivated our Villans and Konsa did well to stave-off a tricky Adingra at the price of a corner.  Then Carlos headed that corner clear to the left that Digne chased down and turned into a penetrating run, and with the help of a give-and-go with Watkins, put over a dangerous cross that would have been an opportunity for Cash if not for an industrious Adingra being there to concede a corner.

The corner, by Digne was supposed to be flicked-on by Torres but our, normally reliable, defensive mastermind, missed it and it rebounded to João Pedro who was casual in clearing only to see his pass blocked by a pestering Bailey.  That turned out to be a perfect pass to an open McGinn on the edge of the 6-yard box.  Our captain can be very clinical at that range and the ball was sent immediately into the corner of the net.  Too bad that our captain was offside by 6”.

Then in the 83rd minute, Enciso fashioned a perfect cross that Welbeck was to cushion-head over Olsen for the far corner only to be off by a matter of inches.  It was no surprise when two minutes later, Konsa found himself struggling to contain Adingra and caught the Ivorian’s foot instead of the ball.  Penalty called.  VAR confirmed and João Pedro stepped forward to take. 

With a perfect record in penalty conversions to goals all-season, it came a surprise that Olsen dove and blocked the shot.  What was not a surprise was that the rebound came right back to João Pedro, and he confidently found the other corner.  Brighton 1, Aston Villa 0 in the 85th minute.

The game ended that way with our Villans showing their frustration at not being able to nail down the 4th spot.

 Brighton: Verbruggen, Veltman, Webster, Dunk, Igor Julio, Groß, Gilmour (Baleba 88′), Buonanotte (Enciso 61′), João Pedro, Adingra (Barco 93′), Welbeck (Moder 88′)

Unused Subs: Steele, Fati, Offiah, Peupion, O’Mahony

Aston Villa: Olsen, Konsa (Chambers 90′), Diego Carlos, Torres, Digne (Moreno 90′), McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Bailey, Rogers (Cash 26′), Diaby (Durán 73′), Watkins

Unused Subs: Lenglet, Gauci, Kesler Hayden, Iroegbunam, Kellyman

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