Make that two victories in a row for the Villa, who took the long way round to beat Brighton 2-1 at Villa Park. Six points in the last game is a good story, but let’s dive a little deeper. Here are all the talking points after Villa punished Brighton.
1. What is VAR?
Video Assistant Referee is a confusing, subjective and seemingly malicious system that seems at odds with the fluid nature of football. It’s injection into the Premier League - at least by the experience of Aston Villa fans - has been a disaster.
You can read more of my thoughts on VAR here, but we do have to go over it again. Villa may have lost today’s game because of VAR. VAR is going to steal points from Villa because of the bizarre decisions made by the assistant referee who is choosing to actively interfere with the game.
It needs a review, and it needs one fast. The fan in the stands is the biggest loser here, in a situation where there shouldn’t be one.
2. The Red Card
The red card changed the match, and boy do I have a graph to show you. Spot the moment that the red card happened on this timeline from Understat:
It’s divergent. That red card stops Brighton’s plan A and it gives Villa the game in terms of chances created.
Aaron Mooy will feel that his sending off was harsh - and let’s be real, it was. However, the laws of the game care not about how aggrieved you feel. One of the dumbest yellow cards that you can pick up is the one you get when you muck around with an opponent’s set piece.
The next dumbest yellow card you can get is when you slide in from behind in a hopeless challenge.
One is a soft yellow card, one is an expected yellow card. Combine the two and you get a red card and an early bath - it’s a clear equation.
Harsh? Yeah - but it’s a formula you can’t really argue with. If you do two dumb things, you will get sent off and Aaron Mooy can have next to no complaints.
3. Brighton weren’t bad
Hands up if you were fairly terrified before the red card? I’m looking around and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just me who was scared.
There was a segment of gameplay in the first half where Villa just could not clear their lines. At all. Every lofted ball was picked up by a high Brighton line and Villa’s midfielders. Tyrone Mings had Neal Maupay dancing on his shoulder blades for a while, and it almost looked like the colossal defender might crack under the pressure. He didn’t, of course. Wesley was ineffective at breaking the lines, and McGinn along with Grealish were suffocated. It looked like Brighton were going to score, and they did. This period of the game was bad news for the Villa.
Then Villa found the room and pushed forward, and Mooy got himself sent off. The match changed and Brighton excelled at a calmer, deeper play that saw them make do without a full squad. They took advantage of Villa’s slodgy tempo and were able to create direct attacking opportunities that ended with patient play in the box.
They were never out of the game and Graham Potter has them playing.
4. Can Villa handle a one-man advantage?
Aston Villa have benefited from an opposition red card in a number of matches now - and haven’t got an awful lot to show for it. The questions that emerge from this are A) can Villa handle a one-man advantage? and B) Is the game harder to play when the opposition lose a player?
I think both have valid answers. Villa have struggled with a one-man advantage and that might be due to the answer to the second question, that yes, teams will step up their game in a different way when they lose a player.
We can certainly bemoan Aston Villa’s tempo and pace, but they weren’t at all able to play on the break. Brighton became a regimented brick-wall in the second-half and often had a situational back-six. Villa couldn’t do much apart from stroll into the box and cut-back, and did they want to risk massive overloads when Brighton were looking quite the threat on the break themselves? I don’t think so.
At 1-1, you still have a lot to lose and a red card doesn’t mean you can go gung-ho. Villa pushed forward, but their tempo was unbalanced and they lacked a focal point. However, we aren’t talking about this if Villa finish their chances.
5. It was a game of wasted chances
I’m going to put my neck on the line here and I’m going to say that Villa’s tactics worked. We can judge the attacking movement and gameplan through xG, as tactics can create chances - but they cannot finish them. You need skill and luck to score goals, but to create chances - you don’t need to be weighted down with luck, you just need skilful players and a solid gameplan which they can execute.
I’ve no qualms about the gameplan of either team, but their finishing wasn’t pretty at all, and both teams will be quite unhappy with some missed chances in this match.
Brighton were down to ten men when Neal Maupay had one of the best chances of the match in the second half - firing wide from the centre of the box when it was perhaps easier to find the net. Brighton were a threat throughout the game, and will be rueing this one. If they aren’t rueing that one, they will certainly be wild-eyed with upset at Martin Montoya’s better chance that was saved.
Villa don’t get away lightly either. Conor Hourihane fired a good chance into the centre of the goal and forced a save, while Anwar El-Ghazi missed a volley that would’ve made Villa’s lead a lot more comfortable.
Villa and Brighton made chances. Their tactics worked - but Villa found that sprinkle of luck when Targett buried the ball in the last second. Both teams will go home knowing that their executions needs to be better.
6. Are there any more questions about Jack Grealish?
No. Jack Grealish has taken quite a beating from the types of pundit we shouldn’t really be listening to in the first place. He’s either too soft or too heavy-handed. He’s either ineffective or too much of a focus for Villa. He’s either a shadow or a ball-hog.
Ignore all that. Grealish can go home knowing he won this game for Aston Villa. He created and finished a close-range chance in the first-half before creating another goal at the death. He is serenely brilliant at Villa Park, and was untouchable. Brighton couldn’t handle him without fouling him.
That England call is coming. There are players like Jack Grealish, but the Three Lions don’t have the Jack Grealish. It’ll be a big boost and an earned achievement for a player who is heading to the top of his game with rapid pace.
7. Targett’s last gasp finish
Matt Targett has enjoyed a good spell at left-back, and his run in the team has been capped off by an excellent goal to win the game.
Targett is a different experience entirely to the one provided by Neil Taylor, and is more of a winger than a defensive option in that position. Often enough, it would be Conor Hourihane filling in at the back as Targett combined with Grealish on the flank. Villa’s wing-attack works well, but there are some teething issues. For instance, the cut-back isn’t working. Villa’s players aren’t looking up when they drive the ball to the killer position in the centre.
Villa will succeed if they show more of the guts of this last gasp goal. Driving through and slamming it home - not every move has to be pretty, or have the benefit of a shot taken from a high xG position.
Targett took that advice and gave Villa the win. He was dangerously close to cutting the ball across once more for another miss, as well.
8. Dreading the VAR call
Dean Smith cut a stoic figure as Villa Park burst into celebration after that goal. Why? Because there was every chance in the world that VAR would find a subjective foul in the build-up and rip it away at the death.
And why not? It already had done so, and Smith was already outraged. Maybe VAR is something to fear?
VAR’s biggest crime is the neutering of the goal celebration. The purest outburst in football now has a leash.
9. We need to talk about Wesley (or do we?)
What is Wesley? He’s a marauding centre-forward with a bag of goals. He’s a fearless centrepiece of a fast cutthroat attack.
He’s also someone who often seems confused as to where the game is heading around them, and as team-mates flit into space, he looks a man out of time.
Wesley was certainly involved in the build-up to Villa’s first goal, the one that VAR didn’t rule out, but he also embodied the energy of a leaner driver attempting to tackle a three-lane roundabout. There was a fair bit of stuttering and stalling. At times he seems like a player who can control the whims and fancies of the game. At other times, he seems completely unable to make a decision with the ball.
It’s not a bad thing, but I’m not sure that I get Wesley yet. However, as long as the goals keep coming in the odd game here and there, I’m not sure I’ll need to.
10. Tyrone’s victory
Project B6 hauled up a crowd-funded banner for Tyrone Mings as the match approached kick-off, and he deserves it.
Earlier, I talked about the pressure Neal Maupay poured upon Mings, but it is nothing in comparison to the cauldron of hate that greeted Mings in Sofia midweek. You all know the story now, but Mings was greeted with dehumanising and racist chanting throughout the match - and responded by playing a part in a resounding England victory. That’s the hardest game Mings will ever have to play - and not because of events on the pitch.
We are all proud of Tyrone Mings, and his reception at Villa Park proves that - but we cannot gloss over racism anymore. It’s not just something that happens to other people, and occurs to third-parties. It’s not something contained to Bulgaria, either.
There are certain sections of the British public that believe racism ended after the 2012 British Olympics in London because Mo Farah won medals and the opening ceremony was a bit nice.
It didn’t end, they just weren’t listening.
Racist rhetoric has been used as a campaign point, and has been engineered by plenty of politicians across a number of wings of political belief. The fear of the ‘other’ is a real thing in England, and that can’t be ignored anymore. Plenty looked down their noses at the far-right sects in Bulgaria leading the racist chants, because it was Bulgaria. There seems to be a belief that racism doesn’t happen in England.
Unfortunately it does, and the fight isn’t over because England and Mings won in Bulgaria. We must keep fighting against all forms of hate, and that includes monitoring our own actions and listening to others.
11. Next up
Villa travel north to Manchester to take on Manchester City next time out. How do they get a win out of that one? Ponder it, and hope that Villa can be more Norwich and less Watford as they travel to the Etihad.