The international break finally ended. And Aston Villa appeared in their first Saturday match of the campaign with an outside chance of going top of the Premier League with a win and making up three in goal difference.
It was a poor luck start. After Jack Grealish was fouled (drink) Ross Barkley took the free kick and immediately grabbed his right hamstring. Less than five minutes in and Dean Smith was forced to go to bench. Surprisely he did not go for the obvious midfield switch of Conor Hourihane. Instead, he picked Bertrand Traore to play behind Watkins. Villa played very well after the sub pressuring Brighton and creating a few half chances.
But it was the hosts who struck first. Villa turned the ball over in the Brighton end. The back line was entirely 5/10 yards over the halfway line and one through ball to Danny Welbeck sent him clear. Mings tried to catch up but it but it wasn’t a race he could win. Welbeck chipped it over Martinez to make it 0-1.
A few minutes later McGinn left Targett short of a pass, thankfully this time Welbeck’s touch let him down and Martinez grabbed the ball.
Villa continued to attack and should have equalized just before the 20 minute mark. Grealish and Watkins combined to create the attack. Jack pulled a pass back to Watkins — his close range shot was blocked right to Trezeguet. His shot was blocked. The winger picked up his own rebound and tried to steer it into the wide open upper corner of the net but somehow put it over. Three clear chances, no goals.
Three chances in a row follow. McGinn (AGAIN) with a poor decision freed Lamptey but Mings stalled the attack and McGinn followed his mistake but clearing the ball. Traore forced a diving save from the Brighton keeper. Villa’s defense fell asleep again and Martinez saved a Maupay chip with his legs while he was outside of the box. Wild, frantic, and sometimes just plain weird play. But certainly entertaining (and stressful).
Watkins very nearly equalized after a Grealish counter attack. Jack sent a low pass into the box and only a last ditch tackled prevented Watkins from getting a touch (and it was very nearly an own goal).
Matt Targett picked up a yellow card near the halftime whistle for a stupid foul. Yes, Maupay made the most of it — but it was still a foolish thing to do.
A wild half came to an end with the score still 0-1 despite numerous opportunities for both teams to score. Villa were the better team. Villa were also the team to make the bigger mistakes.
Brighton made a change at the half with Lallana coming off, Veltman on.
Villa started on the attack again. Targett got fouled within the first minute. Traore hit a beautiful cross. Brighton decided not to defend the far post and Ezri Konsa made the pay. 1-1 right at the start of the second half. A huge time to score after playing the better first half but being down.
Brighton stuck back with a wonderful finish from Solly March. A ball was drifted through the box and March struck it perfectly and it curled into the corner. There was no pressure on March but all credit to the finish really. 1-2.
Solly March with a reminder that Brighton are only allowed to score really, really lovely goals today pic.twitter.com/se5cfxwDe9— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) November 21, 2020
Luiz could have put it back on equal terms but he couldn’t strike it as well as March did a few minutes earlier. And the ball went harmlessly off target.
As the clock ticked toward the 70’ mark Villa’s tired legs were getting obvious with many of the players playing multiple matches over the international break. The attacks were slower. The passes more prone to going off target. Even the free kick deliveries were worse.
Captain Jack Grealish was next to make a poor mistake. He tried a back heel in his own box. It went right to a Brighton player who couldn’t finish. Dumb play but thankfully not punished.
Dean Smith made a double change at 74’. El Ghazi and Houriane on, Traore and Luiz off. People will make a big deal about a sub being subbed. But recall he came on in the opening minutes and did get the assist on the goal. Yes from open play he made mistakes and certainly wasn’t effective but I’m not making a big deal about the sub getting subbed. Luiz was an interesting choice with McGinn having some tired legs as well.
After the subs Villa’s pressure improved. But Brighton sat in and made Villa do all the hard work.
Trezeguet, once again, had the best chance in the period when he skied the shot in the 87’. He had plenty of space to take his time but his shooting boots were just too strong all day.
Grealish picked up a yellow card for... forcefully helping a Brighton player back to his feet.
A second later Lamptey picked up a second yellow for a late foul on Grealish. He was the best player for Brighton. It was a foul but a harsh yellow. I think the referee was thinking it was retaliation on Jack for his previous action.
The free kick was taken wide, cross fell to Grealish in the end. Instead of a long shot he played Trezeguet into the box. The Egyptian took the ball inside and was hit in the leg by Marsh. The winger went down and the penalty was called. VAR called the referee Michael Oliver over the screen. Oliver took the penalty away claiming that the defender hit the ball and therefore it didn’t matter that he kicked Trezeguet... I guess? Even the announcers were surprised it was overturned.
“Clear and obvious” continues to mean something.... but I’m just not sure what. And apparently neither are the referees.
A dramatic end to an odd and disappointing match.
It was Brighton’s first ever win at Villa Park. And a poor result from Villa after the international break. Rough day at the office from Mings, McGinn and Trezeguet — in terms of his finishing.