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xV: Putting a bow on the semi-final win as Villa move toward the final

More than a week ago now, Aston Villa punched their ticket for Wembley. This week in xV, we look back on the semi-final tie with West Bromwich Albion, where Aston Villa advanced as worthy winners.

West Bromwich Albion v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship Play-off Semi Final: Second Leg
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 14: Tammy Abraham of Aston Villa scores the winning penalty in the shoot out during the Sky Bet Championship Play-off semi final second leg match between West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa at The Hawthorns on May 14, 2019 in West Bromwich, England.
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a column about the numbers behind Villa’s results! We take a quick look back at Villa’s semi-final win over West Bromwich Albion, before we shift our focus toward the final.

The dust has finally about settled from a stressful night, and we’re already more than halfway back to the play-off final. That’s awesome and it should hopefully be a good time. I’ve still got some thoughts about the West Brom tie, so let’s close that book by diving into those.

First, an anecdote

Following your club in a level second leg is rarely fun. It’s even less fun when you can’t actually see anything that’s happening.

Why not? I’m a genius. I thought it would be a great idea to take a lake afternoon flight last Tuesday, which... left right in the middle of the second half. I’ll be forever grateful to American Airlines for having wifi that worked well enough to get the AVTV audio stream through, and giving me a unique perspective on a memorable night for us Villa fans.

Dean Smith was right about the tie

This shouldn’t be taken the wrong way, because West Bromwich Albion did a lot right in the second leg, and as any loss on penalties is, theirs was a bit harsh, but on the basis of the 210 minutes of football, Villa were the better side. Even if you just consider the 168 played at 11 v 11, Villa were the better side. That’s why I didn’t get this whole “Villa were fortunate to go through” narrative that developed after the penalties Tuesday.

The Claret and Blues absolutely dominated the first leg, out-shooting WBA by a 21-5 clip. We talked about this a lot in a previous xV, so I won’t dwell on it too much, but the Baggies took a poor approach, and Villa had a deserved 90-minute lead because of it.

Tuesday was different, to a degree, but not as significantly as it’s been made out to be. Were WBA the better side until Chris Brunt got sent off? Yeah, sure. The fact that he got sent off matters, though, if we’re talking about evaluating the tie, but more importantly to this discussion, West Brom’s performance edge in the second leg wasn’t that huge anyway — when Brunt was sent off, the hosts were only out-shooting Villa by a 10-7 margin.

Had the referee correctly whistled the foul that led to the corner that led to the long throw-in goal, I think we might’ve been sitting there at the end of the day feeling like West Brom only seriously threatened the Villa goal on a couple of occasions.

It was a tense, cagey match, and WBA’s edge in that shouldn’t have overshadowed Villa’s dominance in an open first leg. The better team is playing at Wembley on Monday.

It took until penalties, but Villa finally made their man advantage matter

The narrative heading to penalties went something like this: 10-man WBA had all the momentum, defending heroically against Villa’s 11. There was no way Villa would win the penalty shoot-out.

One thing was overlooked: who was actually on the pitch.

With Dwight Gayle and Hal Robson-Kanu suspended, Jay Rodriguez taken off and Chris Brunt sent off, West Brom were without many of their (potentially) preferred penalty takers — the Baggies had just one forward and two midfielders on the pitch, and two of those guys were youngsters. Meanwhile, knowing they were a man up, Dean Smith could confidently make his personnel decisions with the penalty shootout in mind, able to hold back a substitute for the final minute that let him bring on penalty wizard Mile Jedinak.

The result was a slew of defenders taking penalties for WBA, and the preferred takers stepping up for Villa, taking penalties from a toss-up to a shoot-out Villa were always likely to win.