A fierce encounter between two teams vying for Premier League footballing supremacy in the West Midlands ended in a 2-2 draw, as Ashley Westwood scored his first for the club with a 25-yard swerving drive, cancelling out two superb efforts from striker Shane Long to share the spoils at The Hawthorns.
It was always going to be an electric occasion, as West Brom were hungry for victory after controversially being denied a win last week against Chelsea, with Villa looking to keep a record fourth consecutive clean sheet away from home.
The Baggies made a perfect start as Long wasted no time, striking three minutes in to give the home side the lead after a beautifully executed long ball from 50 yards by midfielder Chris Brunt, picking out Long who calmly controlled with two world-class touches to shoot past Nathan Baker and Brad Guzan into the left-hand corner of the net, sending The Hawthorns into a frenzy.
A sense of urgency mixed with some cleverly calculated play sparked West Brom into life from the get-go, firing on all cylinders and leaving Villa with little chance to gather momentum.
Villa responded with a counter-attacking play that saw Aleksandar Tonev unleash a shot from outside the box, taking a deflection off Gareth McAuley and forcing a save out of Boaz Myhill.
The hosts found themselves two-nil up after 10 minutes after Leandro Bacuna executed a careless pass from the wing across to the centre of defence, which was pounced on by the ever-ready Long who controlled the ball with a cheeky step-over to wrong-foot Baker and chip the ball over Guzan, rattling into the goal off the crossbar.
Playing the lone-striker role, Long constantly proved a menace for the Villa defence, with no ball considered a lost cause to chase down. Always looking for channels to run through to pounce on a loose ball or receive a pass, Albion’s
long ball game was proving to be effective as they would often try and pick out Long with the aerial pass.
At 20 minutes, they were gifted the golden chance to make it three-nil after a cross by Morgan Amalfitano from the right was met by an unmarked Stephan Sessgenon, who fumbled the ball wide of the mark from three yards out.
Villa found it hard to get through West Brom’s midfield, and as a result threatened sporadically. Though on 26 minutes, Bacuna delivered a cross from the right, which was flicked on my Christian Benteke towards Libor Kozak, who chested the ball down and half-volleyed his shot which shaved the crossbar.
With Ron Vlaar backtracking, Long again found himself with some space, controlling the ball to the edge of the box to unleash a shot, forcing Guzan into action yet again.
Playing just behind Kozak up front, Benteke had minimal chances as the Villa faithful looked to their top goalscorer from last season to ignite a comeback. A free kick at 34 minutes saw Benteke get on the end of a loose ball only to hammer a volley wide of the goal, which was met with sarcastic cheers from the home fans.
Congestion from the tight physical battles in midfield saw Villa try long balls of their own, with Bacuna getting forward to put in early crosses to pick out Benteke in the air, but such efforts were constantly thwarted by centre-backs Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley.
The Villa faithful begin to realise they were lacking a cutting edge as they chanted for Gabby Agbonlahor, who started on the bench due to an ankle injury that ruled him out of last week’s two-nil win against Cardiff.
West Brom saw out the rest of the half comfortably, firmly in control of a match in
which Villa faced an uphill battle to come away with anything.
The start of the second half saw no changes to either side, especially surprising for Villa, until the 56th minute when Paul Lambert issued a substitution blitz by replacing Libor Kozak, Aleksandar Tonev and Yacouba Sylla with Gabby Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph respectively.
The change made an immediate impact as Villa got forward with Benteke spilling the
ball for Weimann to take his first touch with a shot, deflecting off the defending Olsson forcing an awkward save out of Myhill, sparking enthusiasm and excitement in the Villa’s close travelling supporters.
Albion saw yet another chance to bury the game go begging, with Morgan Amalfitano
serving a cross from the left for Stephan Sessegnon, only for him to blast his effort over the bar and spoil yet another golden chance to make it three-nil.
The introduction of Gabby Agbonlahor gave Villa some much needed pace in attack and the tactical change, along with their persistence, paid dividends on 67 minutes when Leandro Bacuna’s cross was flicked on by Andreas Weimann as Karim El Ahmadi volleyed over Boaz Myhill to spark the possible beginning of a revival for the visitors.
With their West Midlands' counterparts breathing down their necks, West Brom tried to dig deep to have a chance of hanging on to their once comfortable lead. West Brom introduced their first substitution in James Morrison, making his 200th appearance for the club at the expense of Sessegnon, whose lack of composure and precision in front of goal would ultimately prove costly.
On 76 minutes, a Gabby Agbonlahor cross was cleared by a Goran Popov header, only to be collected by Ashley Westwood who opened his Villa goal scoring account in outstanding fashion by sending a thunderous swerving shot from 25-yards to left of Boaz Myhill in front of the Villa supporters.
Sacrificing a defender for more attacking options, Steve Clarke introduced Victor Anichebe to the fold in favor of Popov as they looked to regain the lead. With both teams pressing, it seemed there was still a goal to be scored in such an enthralling spectacle.
Villa withheld a late onslaught by the home side to salvage a point from a game that looked all but lost early on, paying testament to the resilience of Paul Lambert’s youthful side. They have won seven points from losing positions in the Premier League this season, more than any other side, according to Opta.
West Brom had to settle for a second consecutive two-all draw, losing yet another
lead albeit under different and less controversial circumstances to last week’s
Andre Marriner penalty debacle.
The fight to reign supreme in West Midlands football has been somewhat of an even
fight between these two teams in recent years, with last season’s corresponding
fixture ending in the same score line after it was West Brom who turned over a
Both remain in the middle of the table with 15 points a piece, with the Baggies ahead of Villa in 11th place by a single goal.
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