Villa fought back for an improbable draw in a reverse of last season’s meeting at the Hawthornes though Albion will be kicking itself for letting the 2 points slip.
A goal out of nowhere just after 2 minutes changed the cagey opening. A long ball played over the top, Baker was 5 yds behind LONG who took 3 touches to beat Guzan. It was a superb goal, just perhaps behind Sturride’s goal at Villa Park for me, but the way Long controlled the high ball, had it been an NFL player, over here in the States, and he had caught it, then it would have been all over ESPN’s Sportscentre, yet Long caught it with his foot, turned Baker the wrong way and slotted low in the corner,
Villa tried to pick up the tempo, and Tonev saw Myhill react well to a nasty deflection from his fizzing shot.
Then Villa gifted LONG another chance. Bacuna didn’t see him lurking and presented a short pass across the goal for the striker who still had some work to do. A nice step-over got him free of Vlaar and Guzan may have been slow off his line, but his chip off the bar was again quite sublime.
Villa survived the next 8 minutes or so to the 20th minute, but was totally rattled & Albion sought to close this out early.
Tonev tried a couple of poor shots, when patience might have been the better option as Villa tried to get back. Villa’s best chance came when Kozak’s first time shot hit the top of the bar with Myhill beaten.
Villa fell asleep after a free kick was awarded and Tonev and Clarke let the right midfielder get an easy cross in that Sessegnon mis=hit with the goal gaping.
Both sets of fans have criticized each-others managers probably somewhat unfairly, but the second half showed the young minds each has, while Lambert’s decisions may have been a more obvious, Clarkes may have been mis-timed. Clarke had certainly set up the better in the first half, pressing Villa’s every pass causing some very poor ball work. However, in my mind Clarke should have broken the golden rule of never taking a striker off when he’s on a hat-trick, but once Long picked up a knock he was always behind the play in an offside position when Albion looked to spring him and finally, he seemed to just drift out wide.
Of course such conjecture would have been struck moot had Sessegnon not missed his second open goal in the second half.
Lambert threw out his only cards, Agbonlahor, Weimann and Delph came on and immediately sparked Villa and Myhil was quickly relieved to see a Weimann shot spin away from goal for a corner.
Albion had been pretty much time wasting and passing the ball rather than kill off Villa with a 3rd and allowed Villa to grow into the game. It seemed a good idea as Villa didn’t create much and couldn’t get decent balls into the box from wide positions, relying on difficult angled crosses easily dealt with by McCauley and Olsen, but finally a lofted ball was won in the air by Westwood of all people. Yacob or perhaps Popov got a head onto the ball, which served to drop perfectly for EL AHMADI who sensing the keeper coming out struck a lovely shot to give the Villa side of the stand some hope.
Villa was starting to win more and more in midfield and Albion fans showed some frustration as they gave the ball away as cheaply as Villa had earlier and eventually Villa got an equalizer. Gabby chased a lost cause and Olsen’s clearance wasn’t decisive. Weimann screamed for the ball on the edge of the box as Gabby turned to face the area. Instead he over hit his cross and Popov’s header away was directed back into the middle of the pitch where WESTWOOD fought through and hit an unstoppable shot that just kept veering away from Myhill and nestled into the back of the net.
Clarke switched to a 3 man defence to counter Villa’s ascendancy and Villa relaxed off the pace, ready to stick with what they had.
Weimann appeared to handle a long ball to him, but replays showed he didn’t, but the Austrian hammered a shot high into the crowd when an easier one two with Gabby on the edge of the area was on.
Albion finished with a flurry, but Villa didn’t break. Delph was obviously not match fit and it worked perfectly because he couldn’t over do anything and it meant he played simple and it was probably as good a 30 minutes as we’ve seen from him.
Earlier in the half, Benteke had not been called up on an obvious handball, fortunately his effort was not great so there was no controversial goal, and so it was the same thing happened late on when Long tricked referee Oliver into a free kick on Vlaar who did nothing but hold his body against him as is done thoughout the field for 90 minutes so it would have been a travesty had Albion grabbed a winner at the end from that.
Villa survived that last second corner that seemed to undo them all last season and it was the Villa fans happier at the end of this one.
Albion undoubtedly have quality players all over the field and Villa are still a shade behind, but for all the championship team cries from the Baggie fans, Villa aren’t that far behind.