The hotly anticipated West Midlands derby between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion looked as if it would never get the chance to live up to the hype. Two Shane Long goals in the first 12 minutes put the match out of question early, or at least that's how it seemed. Long's first goal was one of the best we've seen in a Villa match for quite some time. He took a long ball from over his shoulder at the edge of the box, corralled it, stepped to his side, and lasered a shot into the bottom corner with his left foot. Here, see for yourself:
There's nothing you can say about a goal like that except "wow."
I'll be perfectly honest, I missed the second goal 8 minutes later because I was trying to make that gif above. Isn't that a nice gif? Well, Long's second goal wasn't quite as nice, but he slammed the ball off the top bar and it bounced it. From there, Villa looked pretty terrible for most of the rest of the half. In the final 5 or so minutes, they settled down a bit, but the consensus was: Villa bad.
In the second half, it took a bit, but Paul Lambert finally realized that three of his best players were sitting on the bench while Libor Kozak, Aleksandar Tonev, and Yacouba Sylla were running around being bad. So it was that, in the 57th minute, Gabby Agbonlahor, Andi Weimann, and Fabian Delph appeared on the pitch, and wouldn't you know it but the match became a whole hell of a lot better. Weimann got off a great shot within a minute or so of coming in, and Delph had one seconds later.
Then, in the 67th minute, Karim El Ahmadi managed to get Villa's first goal off of a pass from Andi Weimann. Unlike Long's first goal, this wasn't pretty, but it certainly changed the tenor of the match:
The three subs seemed to have made Aston Villa an entirely different team altogether. After the goal, the tempo slowed down a bit, but Villa kept pressing. And it paid off, when Ashely Westwood equalized the match a mere 9 minutes later with a goal that managed to find the only possible path it could take to get to the back of the net:
From there, both teams kept pressingly strongly, and it seemed as if a fifth goal was in the offing for the day. Given the way Villa had been playing, I was hoping for one more, but in the final 5 minutes or so, West Brom began pressing their hardest of the match, and Villa were forced to play with their backs to the wall. When the final whistle blew and the match was tied, it was hard to feel anything other than pleased.
Could Villa have gotten all three today? Absolutely. I really think Paul Lambert's decision to not start Agbonlahor, Weimann, AND Delph cost the club. But we all knew this was a pretty even match coming in. Literally the only thing separating these two teams before today was one goal (one fewer scored by Villa than WBA). After today, the same can be said. Getting a point after being down 2-0 in a derby is not a terrible result. Could've been better, but I'll certainly take it.