Times have been tough for an Aston Villa fan over the past few weeks and due to other results, the Villa started today in the relegation zone. No more time for kidding ourselves with “it’s just a bad run” or “our form will pick up”. It’s hard not to sound biased when I say this but we have been unlucky this season; with certain decisions in games and also with injuries to our more experienced players.
The bad luck continued early on in the game with Nathan Baker having to be substituted due to injury after just five minutes with what looked like a hamstring injury; fortunately for Villa Ron Vlaar returned to the starting line-up for this game after a two month absence which made the loss of Baker that little bit more bearable. With Richard Dunne returning to training this past week, at least Paul Lambert will begin to have a bit more choice in his selections rather than just selecting the only fit senior players in that position.
Despite a bit of bad luck at the start however Villa seemed to be possessed and made their early pressure pay with Christian Benteke’s stunning 20-yard net-buster. The giant Belgian hadn’t scored for a few weeks and with Andreas Weimann out with an illness, Benteke was the only Villa player on the pitch to have scored more than one Premier League goal this season. With the majority of our goal-scoring therefore down to 'The Beast', it was necessary for him to supply the goods in this of all games. Charles N’Zogbia ran down the left-hand side and fed Benteke, who fainted to his right - leaving Claudio Yacob chasing shadows – before unleashing an unstoppable strike. It was just the sort of thing we’d been missing in the last few weeks, and the confidence boost from that was enormous.
With Ron Vlaar back in a three/five man defence, depending how you look at it, instilled confidence and leadership and this lead to patience with the ball. Villa were passing to keep hold of the ball, rather than always lumping the ball forward and then being on the defensive for the majority of the first half. Frustration in the West Bromwich Albion supporters grew and this only played into Villa’s hands. N’Zogbia again the provider; this time latching on to Ashley Westwood’s pass and turning the ball into Gabriel Agbonlahor’s path who turned Gareth McAuley inside out before firing low into the net from 18-yards.
The goal was a brilliant counter-attacking move and epitomised the attacking threat we have carried all season long but have been too inconsistent to take advantage of. On the subject of inconsistent, N’Zogbia has been a perfect example since the Frenchman signed for us but over the last few weeks he has been restored to the first team in his preferred “free role” and we have reaped the rewards. Two assists by half time and the former Wigan Athletic man was on fire.
Villa got to half time with the two goal lead intact and at that point I actually started to believe that three points might be on the cards; keeping West Brom at bay for the first ten minutes of the second half would be imperative and that proved too difficult. The Baggies entered the second half with a completely different attitude than that which they showed in the first half and deserved an early goal to get themselves right back in the game. At that point we needed to bounce back and quickly score a third or it was all too inevitable that an equaliser would occur – it would also have been a good bet that it would be from a set-piece. The bane of our very existence this season.
I haven’t always believed that “Villa need more experience and they’ll gain more points” but there were a few occasions where it was evident that it was the case today. Eric Lichaj and Matthew Lowton were both guilty of trying to shepherd the ball out of play in dangerous situations, both losing possession which both led to chances which fortunately weren’t taken. A more experienced head may have just cleared the ball in those situations and hopefully with our captain Vlaar back either he or Lambert will notice such incidents and make sure that they don’t happen too often.
The big positive for me and one that I will no doubt get slated for is that in the face of heavy pressure in the second half, to a very good team at home, we didn’t lose. Every point in our position is invaluable and despite the obvious disappointment of giving away a two goal lead, in other games this season we’ve gone on to crumble under such pressure. At the start of the day almost all Villa fans would have been pleased with a point and a decent performance, which on the whole it was. If we can score two goals past West Brom in 35 minutes then we can turn around the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final on Tuesday. If it’s a good three days for Villa, our season could take a real positive turn.