What a game of football. Indeed, what a fine game football is, throwing up twists and turns that other sports struggle to match.
As a seasoned spectator of the modern game, it can sometimes feel like mere habit attending. We love our club, we all share a passion for football, but given our slide into mid table anonymity, you need reminding by the footballing gods now and then the reasons for all of this.
The first 30 minutes of this fixture were breathless. Indeed the first half was quite literally pulsating, a rollercoaster ride of joy and despair. This feeling shared in all corners of the ground.
Albion struck Villa early, Brunt firing off an audacious effort that caught everyone off guard. Some cite luck, others may call it a “worldy”. It was a brutal drive at goal that was, in my view, unstoppable. Indeed, shades of Benteke’s strike in the reverse fixture last season.
Villa looked suitably rattled, and whilst they are accruing Premier League games between them, their youthful naivety reared itself moments later.
West Brom were awarded a soft free kick that was knocked into the left attacking channel. It took Villa an age to react, by which point the damage was done. In the scramble to recover, the cross was diverted into the net by a retreating Delph. Villa looked vulnerable in right back all evening, with Lowton’s defensive form of some worry.
Stunned. It wasn’t going to be one of “those” nights was it?
Cue the fightback as the Holte End looked on startled.
A long punt by Guzan was flicked on by Lugano, the Albion centre half. [Note: Possibly the single worst defender ever to grace the field at Villa Park. And we have Alan Hutton on our books.]
The ball fell to Wiemann, a gift, which he dispatched over Foster with some style. Indeed, his reaction and finish were impressive live, but on reviewing, it is a fine fine goal.
Rejuvenated, Villa took advantage of the momentum to press West Brom, who suddenly looked all over the place, having moments before been in total control.
Benteke pressed into the box but was closed down, only to release Lowton who delivered a clinical ball across the face of goal. Bacuna conspired to miss it, looping the ball whilst slipping, fortunately into the net.
The roar of relief and joy filled the ground. Villa had looked dead and buried, but the fight and desire was exceptional.
Earlier I mentioned Brunt’s fine goal. Delph topped it. Whilst I acknowledge my bias in advance, Delph’s goal to give Villa the lead was something extraordinary.
Feeding from a superb knock down from Benteke, Delph controlled the ball brilliantly, switching to his left, wrong footing the defender.
He then proceeded to unleash hell.
I cannot recall many goals scored with such ferocity, sure mindedness and guile. The move was slick, but the finish, quite brilliant. It was met with a noise above a sonic boom from the Holte. The roof hadn’t just come off, it had blown away.
West Brom, stunned, somehow managed to regain some composure in what must have seemed an unbelievable turn of events. Probing once more a clever move dissected the Villa defense with ease. Mulumbu rolled the ball beyond Guzan to equalise. An immediate come down and a further illustration of our puzzling defending this season.
Half time arrived. Pulses slowed, blood pressure dropped.
The second half was more measured from both sides. West Brom had clearly had been given the “don’t give up the point” talk. Villa had probably received a similar warning, tinged with a message to go and find the winner but not shooting ourselves in the foot by doing so.
Benteke remained a constant threat. His performance was a show of strength, vision and determination. It has been seen in flashes this season, his form continues to return, and there’s little doubt that the Belgian is destined for great things.
His pressure ultimately lead to the winner. A looping ball from Bacuna was bound for Benteke. Lugano, for reasons known only to himself, proceeded to wrestle Benteke by the neck to the floor. It was as blatant a penalty as I can recall ever witnessing. It was dispatched with confidence by Benteke to jubilant scenes.
West Brom remained a threat, Villa remained positive but fragile. The effort had took its toll on the excellent Delph. Vlaar, perhaps his best showing in a Villa shirt, looked resolute despite clearly carrying an injury.
The introduction of Holt for Wiemann raised eyebrows. However, we were under no illusions as to his purpose in closing down the game in our favour, his first touch being to boot Reid to the ground from behind. It was an agricultural move, not for the purists, but effective.
The one scare of note (fortunately) featured the dire Lugano. Allowed to wander in at the back post by Lowton (asleep), Lugano, with the goal at his mercy, somehow managed to head wide. Unmarked, unpressured, ball on his head. He managed to miss a certain goal. His all round showing was atrocious. Or comical, depending on your camp.
Villa saw the game out, and at the final whistle, collectively wondered maybe a corner has been turned? Last season big fixtures (Sunderland at home being a memorable one) defined our recovery and Premier League status. Perhaps the manner and outcome of the Albion game will define this year? One wonders whether it may in fact have greater implications upon the visitors than us.
A welcome victory. A welcome home victory. A very welcome home derby victory. Up next; Everton.
Guzan – (7) – Mr Aston Villa, passionate, time waster?
Lowton – (6) – Erratic but forward thinking.
Bertrand – (8) – Solid at the back, threatening going forward.
Clark – (7) – Committed but distribution a hindrance.
Vlaar – (9) – Arguably his best game in Villa shirt.
Bacuna – (7) – Skillful and tricky player.
Al Ahmadi – (7) – Lots of effort, tired badly.
Delph – (10) – Wonder goal, 100% commitment & effort.
Westwood – (7) – Industrious.
Wiemann – (8) – Best performance in a long time.
Benteke – (9) – Unplayable.
Baker (Sub) – (7) – Big lad for big headers.
Sylla (Sub) – (6) – Looked off the pace when introduced.
Holt (Sub) – (6) – Big chap. Booked for needless dive.