Villa were seconds away from reflecting upon another VAR influenced game, a third failed attempt to beat ten men and another softly conceded goal.
Then, up stepped Matt Targett with a wonderfully taken match-winner.
What a timely goal.
Timely not only that it was scored into the deepest, darkest depths of injury time, but that it comes ahead our most difficult fixtures of the season in Manchester City & Liverpool. It also delivered welcome back to back wins for the first time this term.
Villa started well, but soon encountered a very well drilled and composed Brighton side. It quickly became apparent that this would be no walk in the park.
Whilst McGinn’s energy drove towards The Holte End, dazzling once more with a mix of strength and technique, we also laboured. El Ghazi drifted in and out, and aside from a positive run and cut inside, was quiet. Hourihane, so comfortable in the decimation of Norwich, found himself chasing shadows.
Brighton moved the ball through the midfield with ease.
Neal Maupay, courted by many during the summer, cut a dangerous figure lurking across the front line. Many will recall the former Brentford man despatching a Villa side featuring Mings just a matter of months ago.
Their deserved breakthrough came after a very undeserved free-kick award on the edge Villa’s box. Indeed, referee David Coote looked out of his depth for most of the afternoon.
Irrelevant of our protests, the decision stood, with the ball pumped purposefully to Villa’s back post, Webster jumped to head home with ease. It was schoolboy defending that gave the visitors the opening.
The visitors seemed to have the measure of us in the middle of the park, but it would be ill-discipline that would ultimately be their un-doing.
Indeed, it was two moments of madness from Aaron Mooy that would allow the impetus of the match to shift in Villa’s favour.
Firstly the Australian picked up a stupid yellow card for tapping the ball away as Villa looked to take a free-kick. A classic ‘dumb-footballer’ booking. His second yellow, underlining this fact, came just five minutes later, as Mooy came through the back of an advancing Jack Grealish. He was swiftly given his marching orders.
There was still room for controversy and yet again VAR was at the centre of it.
A pin point cross from Frederic Guilbert was flapped at by the visitors keeper, squared by McGinn before Hourihane unleashed an unstoppable effort into the top corner. Jubiliation around Villa Park.
Unbelievably, as the teams went to kick off, VAR ruled, unfathomably, that Wesley had somehow impeded the goalkeeper.
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) October 19, 2019
VAR IS NOT WORKING
This blog is and always has been positive and eager to embrace progression in football.
VAR does not look anything like progress, in what is already a maligned, flawed and damaging feature of seemingly every single game.
Whilst few would argue against getting results right, this must be done in a timely way. This decision, as with the one against Burnley, was both poorly communicated and came over 90 seconds after the goal had been scored.
The other, glaring issue, is that VAR is getting decisions wrong. There was quite literally nothing wrong with the goal live; no one in the ground, not a single official, nor a single opposition player protests. Why? It was a legitimate goal that VAR has effected an in-game change where none was required.
And finally, the subtle impact upon the atmosphere and enjoyment of the game. This writer didn’t celebrate Grealish’s goal that came just minutes later, and a packed Villa Park made one of the strangest sounding goal celebrations ever heard.
Muted, delayed and with all of the ecstacy sucked from the moment.
VILLA FANS VENT VAR FURY
— Villa Underground (@avfc_vilr) October 19, 2019
It was just as well that Grealish did score just minutes later, as an aggrieved Villa prowled in an attempt to force some retribution.
Guilbert, again impressive as an out-ball option, did get an assist this time.
Running onto a released ball, the Frenchman drove a low bending ball dangerously across the six yard line, which the on-rushing Grealish slid across the line.
The second half saw Brighton re-group.
If there’s one observation I’d make of the hosts is that they were an excellent footballing side. After three years adrift in The Championship, you can forget about the consistently high standards of technique sides have as a matter of routine in the Premier League. Brighton are no exception.
Despite having ten men they moved the ball crisply and there can be little denying that the contest’s outcome could reasonably have been very different if they’d kept eleven men on the pitch.
A point of reflection from a Villa perspective is Smith’s perseverance with an approach even when it is crying out for a tweak or change.
The midfield really struggled to impose itself against The Seaguls, particularly in a crucial phase following the half-time break right up until a substitute was finally made on 63 minutes.
Hourihane, who impressed in fleeting moments, was swapped in favour of Trezeguet. Arguably El Ghazi, removed ten minutes later should really have had the earlier withdrawel. The Belgian looked out of sorts and was guilty of skying high into the North Stand when easier to score.
However, the injection of the classy Douglas Luiz gave much needed balance and legs in support of the solid Nakamba.
The Brazilian, despite enduring a long-haul flight from the America’s, immediately got involved in moving the ball from midfield. He was also unlucky with a pinged effort that flew past the keepers right hand post.
Luiz appeared alongside Kienan Davis. Whilst late introductions, they provided energy, strength and something for Brighton to think about just as their will was being tested and fatigue set in.
Villa didn’t go about things with any great intent mind, with any number of forays forward intercepted with ease or cleared routinely. It was frustrating and as the seconds of injury time slipped away had the feelings that an opportunity to consolidate was about to be missed.
However, Grealish, arguably having one of his best home performances in a Villa shirt, worked tirelessly to the end.
His efforts were rewarded, with a final dart in the box enabling him to somehow feed the ball to the feet of Matt Targett.
Targett, made no mistake of his duty in the 94th minute, planting a match-winning finish beyond Australian No.1 Mat Ryan to seal all three points and send Villa Park into meltdown.
Thanks for reading.