The headlines before the final Sunday match were all about Big Sam being back in the Premier League to try to keep West Brom above the dreaded relegation line. For Villa, Luiz and Cash were back in the starting XI. Hause keeps the spot in the back line and Jack Grealish in the 10 role (but anyone who follows Villa knows he goes where he wants.)
West Brom had the first good chance at goal after Martinez made a rare error and handled the ball outside his box. The free kick was seen out by a solid defense, and in all honesty the low cross wasn’t great.
Four minutes in, it was Villa’s turn. Watkins cushioned a header down to Traore on the right side of the box. The winger cut in to his left foot, as he always does, and crossed the the far post. El Ghazi had lost his mark and finished with the outside of his boot to sneak it past Sam Johnstone. 0-1 to the good and a needed goal for El Ghazi after some... less than ideal finishing in the midweek draw to Burnley.
After the goal Villa continued to push with very positive play across the pitch. McGinn fired a long distance shot over the bar and Watkins headed a far post cross off target. Villa were comfortable in controlling and probing the West Brown defense.
Just past the 30 minute mark, West Brom Captain Jake Livermore picked up a yellow card for a late and rash challenge on Grealish right in front of the benches. Livermore was unhappy with Grealish and went over and appeared to yell at Jack on the ground. VAR got word to Martin Atkinson, he took a look, and changed the card to red.
Red card for Livermore. VAR used correctly. For once. pic.twitter.com/oaM2KYDLZ7— (@lfcrubn) December 20, 2020
Kortney Hause picked up a yellow for a poor challenge himself two minutes after Livermore walked. VAR considered it, but no changes was made. Dumb to make that kind of tackle right after a red for the other side. Hause lucky not to be sent walking. Martinez caught the ensuing free kick.
Traore earned a free kick in added time after he was taken down near the top of the box after yet another excellent run. El Ghazi’s free kick was deflected by Hause for a goal kick.
The halftime whistle blew afterwards with Villa up a goal, up a man, and dominating the game. Traore was the stand out player — especially with his play with Matty Cash. IF — and this is a long-term if — Villa can develop a consistent attack down the right that will take the pressure of Jack Grealish and allow the captain more space to work his magic. Traore and El Ghazi also flipped for a bit to some success.
The second half started with no changes for either side. And Villa dominated possession right from the outset.
It was the head of John McGinn that had the first real chance of the half. Grealish created the chance with a run down the left. He pulled it back and McGinn tried a diving header toward the near post but it was never on target.
Big Sam’s West Brom sat back and defended well. Villa swung the ball from side to side looking for holes to exploit.
Watkins tried to beat the keeper to the near post near the hour mark. The corner lead to the first quality West Brom counter attack. But Douglas Luiz did very well to stop it. After Villa got the ball back — Grant picked up a yellow card for stopping John McGinn from starting a counter.
As the clock ticked on, Villa dominated but the second goal remained elusive. Villa were in good positions but the final ball just failed the attack over and over and over.
Mings picked up a yellow card for tripping O’Shea in the 65 minute. It was a dumb decision and a deserved card that put both the CBs on yellows.
But in the 72’, the West Brom dam finally broke. McGinn to Traore, flicked it to Matty Cash in space in the box, cross sent in and Watkins made no mistake to put the ball into the net.
But the evil Mr. VAR pulled out dotted lines again and Watkins sleeve was deemed offside.
How on earth is Watkins offside here?! VAR is a mess. #AVFC pic.twitter.com/HttCusD3tB— Witton Lane (@LaneWitton) December 20, 2020
A minute later El Ghazi forced a diving save from Johnstone (who remains a very good keeper).
77’ West Brom made two changes, Phillips off Austin on and Diangana off Ivanovic on . Two wingers off and a striker and defender on. Former Villa youth player Callum Robinson came on a few mins later with 8’ left.
Right before the final sub for West Brom, Villa had a half a chance but a Matt Targett headed cross was caught by Johnstone.
But FINALLY — Bertrand Traore made it count. Grealish with an excellent counter attack found the winger. Watkins made an excellent run in front of Traore to pull a defender then Traore seemed to surprise Johnstone by taking the shot early and low when he passed the ball into the corner of the net. Villa had their just reward and a two goal lead.
Moments later as the relief set in, Jack Grealish was clipped just inside the penalty area on 86’. Atkinson had no delay in pointing to the spot. Mr. VAR took a second to think about it but let the call stand. El Ghazi took the ball again and fired Villa to a deserved three goal lead.
Yes, with one more player on the pitch I expect Villa to dominate. But combined with the Burnley performance (not score) things are looking up for Villa heading into the festive period. And that is not something I’ve written or said for many many years.
Up the Villa!!