Substitute Keinan Davis scored his first Premier League goal as Aston Villa salvage a point from local rivals West Bromwich Albion.
In an eventful game, Villa were left frustrated by not taking all three points after a dominant second-half and hitting the post twice after an unfortunate Tyrone Mings own-goal gave the Baggies the lead.
The Barkley Surprise
Eyebrows may have been raised when the Villa team sheet was announced an hour before kick-off as fans saw Ross Barkley starting in a presumed 4-2-3-1 formation, which came as a surprise given his recent form.
The team sheet also saw Ahmed Elmohamady make his 100th Villa start and potentially his last, with Brazilian striker, Wesley, included in the match-day squad for the first time since New Years Day in 2020. You don’t need me to tell you that Jack Grealish was again out injured for this game.
Soft Penalties Each Way
The first-half was a tale of two soft penalties - one more so than the other.
After a lovely move full of intricate passes, Anwar El Ghazi’s shot deflected into the path of Barkley, who was clumsily fouled by Semi Ajayi. Replays showed that there was contact and it was clumsy from Ajayi, but a penalty nonetheless. Anwar El Ghazi, who had scored four in his last four meetings against West Brom, converted the penalty past former Villan, Sam Johnstone.
If Villa’s penalty was deemed as soft, then a thesaurus is needed to describe West Brom’s penalty as Ezri Konsa was judged to have fouled Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the box. At the time, contact may have been hard to spot, but a zoomed in half-time replay showed Konsa clipping Maitland-Niles’ foot. The difference in decisions was that Ajayi’s challenge was clumsy and on the wrong side of the attacker, but Konsa’s contact seemed to come in a running motion, which is obviously harder to avoid.
Villa seemed all over the Baggies until their goal and momentum clearly shifted with the away side boosted by their equalizer. Okay Yokuslu headed wide from 10 yards out and Matheus Pereira hit the crossbar from a free-kick on the corner of the box. Both teams had chances, but being level at the break was probably a fair score line.
Slow Start, Positive Finish
Villa got off to the worst possible start in the second-half after conceding just two minutes into play restarting. A high ball forward was initially controlled by Konsa, who then slipped, allowing Mbaye Diagne the chance to pick up the ball and drive forward. Diagne cut into the box from the left wing and his shot was just edging wide until an outstretched leg from Tyrone Mings diverted the ball past Emiliano Martinez - eventually marked down as an own goal for the England defender.
From this point on, it was almost one-way traffic. Villa pushed and pushed for an equalizer with West Brom having two good chances to go two goals to the good. Callum Robinson’s low shot was saved at the near-post and a good save from Martinez denied Pereira from a great strike outside the box. This wasn’t Martinez’s best save as he was then able to pull off a tremendous reaction to Ezri Konsa’s failed clearance, which clipped the post and was then tipped over the roof over the net as a result.
Villa had plenty of chances in the second half and some sloppy finishing did cost them the three points. Elmohamady had an excellent volley on the edge of the area saved by Johnstone and Bertrand Traore hit the outside of the post after clever footwork on the right-hand side. After Dean Smith had been quite proactive in recent matches with substitutes, he seemed more reserved tonight as Jacob Ramsey replacing Douglas Luiz in the 78th minute was the first Villa change.
Four minutes later and the game-changer entered the pitch. Keinan Davis replaced Ross Barkley and looked lively straight away, who had a Federico Macheda-esque (Sorry for any bad memories) turn and his shot was saved by Johnstone before hitting the post shortly after. After a goalmouth scramble, the ball fell to Davis, who created space for himself with a clever touch, but shot as he was falling and struck the post.
Davis would finally break his Premier League duck in the 92nd minute after being quickest to react to a defensive mix up between Baggies’ captain, Kyle Bartley, and keeper, Johnstone. A ball into the box was headed back across goal from Watkins and as Bartley only chested the ball, Davis pounced and poked the ball home with his left foot. A fantastic moment for Davis, which would no doubt have been celebrated joyously by Villa fans as the 22-year-old has impressed recently despite his limited minutes from the bench.
Wesley made his comeback in the 90th minute and did have a half-chance shortly after Davis’ equalizer, but his header was comfortably saved by Johnstone.
After an even first half, Villa dominated the second half and had enough chances to come from behind and take all three points. It would have been a welcome double over the Baggies, but snatching a point late on may well be one of the final nails in the coffin for their Premier League survival.
Another frustrating evening for Villa, who could have jumped into ninth with a win and been back in with an outside chance of securing European Football next season. Instead, it looks to be confirmation that Villa remain set for a comfortable mid-table finish. Keinan Davis has surely forced Smith into getting a start against Everton next week and a special shout-out to Matt Targett, who was excellent in both attack and defense this evening.