If you want overwhelming excitement in your match review, read the instant reaction that I put up yesterday evening. Now, though, we actually get to dive into it a little bit more. Spoiler alert: even after waiting a bit to calm down, I'm still pretty giddy about Aston Villa beating West Bromwich Albion 2-1 in the most amazing way possible. What struck me most about this match was the fact that, for seemingly the first time in ages, there wasn't any one player who had a terrible performance.
Sure, Jores Okore had his alarmingly usual spastic moments, but he also had a few plays of great quality. For instance, in the second half when West Brom went on one of only two countering breaks on the day, it was about to be striker vs. Guzan in a battle that the Villa keeper was sure to lose. 1-2, Villa go down without a point. But from seemingly nowhere, Okore came sprinting in and made an absolutely gorgeous diving tackle that got nothing but ball and turned a certain goal into a harmless throw in.
Charles N'Zogbia is another great example. He had his best day in a Villa kit in at least two years, and it came after most of us threw our hands up in disgust for seeing his name in the starting XI. Mind you, I disagree with plenty of people on twitter who say that he had a "great" day. Heck, I'm not even sure if it was an above average day (unless we're only judging by N'Zogbia's standards). But he played largely mistake-free football that did enough to distract the Baggies and open up other opportunities elsewhere on the pitch. Would I rather see him than Carles Gil, Scott Sinclair, or even Jack Grealish? Heavens no. But if we must have N'Zogbia around, this version is much preferable to that which we've gotten used to.
But what about some of the great performers? Don't let Gabby Agbonlahor's weaker second half fool you, his first half was absolutely incredible. Yes his first chance could have been a goal if he had aimed it elsewhere. But it also could have been a goal if the ball had slipped literally a centimeter further. The second goal brought back memories of Gabby in his prime, and the third chance was again saved on the line. He was running, passing, and controlling the ball like we haven't seen in years, and when he does that he can be a truly valuable asset.
Another standout performance came from Matthew Lowton. On Saturday he was forced to play left back, and did an unremarkable job. He wasn't bad, but being on that side negated his strong right foot and made him less of an asset. Yesterday he more than made up for it. One of the things that Lowton is best at is crossing. Playing on the left limits his ability to do that so he... well he just started charging into the box more. And running around the ball so that he could get it onto his right foot. It's been ages since I've seen any Villa player work as hard as did Lowton, and had it not been for his presence of mind to charge into the box in the dying seconds of the match, he would have never been in a position to get the foul that gave Villa the winning penalty.
There were others, too. Jack Grealish came on in the second half and for once looked like more than pure energy. He was moving to both sides of the pitch like Carles Gil, and he was equally confident creating chances as he was taking them. It's the first time in a while that I've seen Grealish and seen something more than potential. He's not there yet. He's still better used as a sub. But play like this and he can be a truly useful Premier League player right now.
Tom Cleverley put in a quietly solid match, doing all of the things that needed to be done and making few mistakes. Fabian Delph put in a dynamic performance. And Ciaran Clark kept on being the player of the season that we've come to know and love.
But it all came down to Christian Benteke. Quite frankly, I thought the Belgian striker was having another terrible day. Yes, he did contribute the assist in the Guzan-Benteke-Agbonalhor Route 1 goal that opened scoring, but he was failing to get himself involved in the box just as he has been for ages. But when Villa drew the penalty, their first of the year, I can't imagine there was ever any doubt who would take it. And with that little stutter step of his that made Ben Foster dive to his right, all of the Benteke problems were forgiven for the day. With Foster on his knees Benteke cooly slotted the ball into the net with no resistance whatsoever.
There were some players who were unquestionably better than others, but yesterday's win was a team effort. The last goal exemplifies that so well: a Fabian Delph shot led to a scramble in the box that involved Alan Hutton and Jack Grealish, the ball was sent over to Matthew Lowton who got the penalty that was converted by Christian Benteke. Five players who all made that final breathtaking goal possible. Everyone played better than they had been recently, and everyone seemed desperate to get all three points. That's the attitude that could save this club, and it couldn't have come at a better time.