Villa continue to be unpredictable but showed guile and spirit to come back for a draw against our ever improving local neighbours.
On reflection a point will do very nicely. It’s by no means preferred, but given that we were trailing as the minutes slipped away and having lost last years encounter this represents progress.
Depressing though a point against Albion might be, it is a reflection of where Villa are at. At times the inexperience was glaring, the invention lacking and there was evidence that a few figures have yet to gel. However, the signs are there of a spirited team capable of putting performances together which will steer us in the right direction up the league.
The game was effectively split into four quarters. Albion had the best of the early exchanges, passing the ball well and rendering Villa’s centre midfield impotent. Shane Long, who has the makings of a decent striker missed a sitter of a header at the Holte End. A warning that Villa did little to heed from the young Irishman.
Villa grew into the game and it was Benteke’s turn to squander a fine opportunity. Dispossessing the opposition defender on the touchline he burst into the box, with options to square the Belgian hammered the ball over the bar. It could have proven a costly example of greed. Before the close of the half Holman was also unlucky with a powerful long distance drive which Foster palmed over the bar. All square at the whistle.
The second half mirrored the first with Albion on the front foot once again showing a resurgence of their play in the early parts of the match. Villa looked stretched and were unable to make the ball stick to either Benteke or Agbonlahor. Albion broke, the ball played across a scrambling Villa back line and Long tapped in for a straightforward opener. He had been ruled offside following a similar move only minutes earlier.
Cue worried exchanges amongst the Villa faithful. Would this signal a Southampton style capitulation? Under McLeish the atmosphere would have been torrid thereafter, but under Lambert Villa have something extra.
The team picked themselves up and finally began to show some urgency as the realisation that a defeat simply wasn’t good enough. Albrighton, a continuing disappointment was promptly removed from the field. Delph, whose industrious style which at times borders on clumsy also saw his number come up. Into the fray came Darren Bent and Villa’s own marmite Barry Bannan.
With Holman and El Ahmadi hustling and the fullbacks now pressing higher up the pitch Villa threatened once more. N’Zogbia made a nuisance of himself and his head down style of attack showed glimmers of the type of player we imagined we’d signed from Wigan for £10 million. It was our £24 million pound striker who struck however, in typical predatory fashion. Bent was, as usual in the right place and the right time to knock home the equaliser after a mini goalmouth scramble.
In typical Villa fashion we almost conceded moments after the restart with Lukaku getting behind the back line only for Guzan to save the day. Indeed Lukaku, the Chelsea loanee could have wrapped up the fixture a further time after this. A tricky package he looks, but his wastefulness perhaps evidence of why the European Champions want to see his impact in the Premier League week to week.
For all Villa’s defensive concerns we continued to probe Albion. This was and still largely is a team that under the previous incumbent seemed to all out avoid the creation of goal scoring opportunities. Villa could have wrapped the fixture up moments before the final whistle. With good build up play the ball was squared to the expertly positioned Bent, who lashed a shot inches over the bar. A vital last ditch Albion defender applying the necessary pressure to avert the winner.
All in all it was a good derby. An improving Villa team competed and took the game to Albion, there continues to be the evidence of the green shoots of a recovery. The lingering stench of last season still rears its head most matches however.
West Brom continue to impress, with their passing play and ability to break likely to harm teams in the lower third of the division more often than not. Defensively as frail as Villa, so certainly susceptible to defeat from stronger teams – their biggest worry might be retaining the standout players in their squad come the opening of the transfer window.
Next weekend sees Villa visit Tottenham. Nice of them to find a bit of form in anticipation of our arrival.