3 points dropped
After being in such a dominant position at half time the 2-2 result can only be seen as a precious 3 points dropped for Villa, especially with the equaliser arriving with 7 minutes of normal time remaining. Although 1 point in the end was enough to move Villa out of the bottom three a victory would have also seen them leapfrog struggling Newcastle into 16th. The loss of those extra 2 points could prove crucial come the end of the season.
Letting a 2-0 lead slip
Once again Villa managed to let a 2-0 lead get away from them, in a game that they should have been able to close out. It was the same against Manchester United in November; although that time Villa conceded 3 second half goals and ended up with nothing. A point of worry for Villa fans remains the fact that, even when they do take the lead, the opposition look capable of ripping apart the Villa defence at will. A 2-0 goal lead should be a relatively comfortable position for most teams to be in, but for Villa vulnerability always remains constant until the final whistle.
Defensive frailties exposed again
Despite the return of Vlaar being a welcome bonus for Villa, defensive mistakes still loomed at large. The majority of Villa’s goals this season have been conceded via corners, set pieces or crosses into the box. The pattern at the Hawthorns remained consistent. For the first goal Villa failed to deal with a ball into the penalty area, and the Baggies equaliser came from a corner. Every time that theAlbionran at the Villa back line they looked like they might score. On numerous occasions Villa’s panicking youngsters failed to deal with long balls before they bounced, and at times made Jerome Thomas look like he was Maradona.
Second half performance
We all know what happened in the second half by now, Villa let a 2-0 lead slip away, but it was the performance during the closing 45 minutes that hurt the most. Villa looked a totally different team, void of the confidence displayed before the break and lacking in fluidity. Villa struggled to retain possession, Gabby and Benteke didn’t hold the ball up as effectively as they had been doing and the defence fell to pieces. WBA were allowed far too much of the ball in the second half, which is dangerous territory for Villa as they are terrible without it. When the game was levelled on 83 minutes WBA were the only team that looked capable of snatching victory.
Injury to Baker
Baker left the field very early into the game, forcing Lowton to move from right back to centre back. That sums up the lack of depth in Villa’s squad at present, so the last thing the team need was an injury. If Baker’s injury is lengthy then the only natural cover at centre back is Richard Dunne. A fit Dunne could be vital to Villa but he is still a few weeks away, meaning that if Lambert is to persist in using three centre backs then Herd and Lowton are the only other viable options. Centre half of course is not either of the players favoured position.
The Belgian forward has been squandering chances for Villa of late, but against WBA he looked to be back to his best. Whenever Benteke challenged for an attacking ball most of the opposition players near him ended up a crumpled heap on the floor. He held the ball up well, linked nicely with Agbonlahor, and his goal was an absolute thunderbolt. Even if the goalkeeper had got in front of the ball then he would have been travelling into the back of the net with it. When Benteke is on song he is the one Villa player that can produce something out of nothing. His coming back to form can only mean good news for Villa.
First half performance
For the first 45 minutes Villa looked a different team to recent games. They closed WBA down quickly, looked relatively organised at the back and a threat going forward. Villa looked like a team that had shaken off the nervousness of late, passing the ball around confidently, keeping long balls to a minimum, and for long periods they controlled the game. Fabian Delph actually looked like a Premiership player and even N’Zogbia posed a rare threat. It’s true N’Zogbia ran head down with the ball, as is usual, and tried to take on three players before passing it, but at least he did manage an end product on a couple of occasions, and looked to be worrying the Albion defence with his directness. If Villa had played the way that they had in the first half then they would have won the game.
It could have been worse
Rather an obvious statement but it could have been. Villa always looked like they were going to concede an equaliser, so with 7 minutes plus on the clock after WBA had levelled the score 1 point was a bonus. It could have been Manchester United all over again.
Paul Lambert has taken a lot of stick from some sections of Villa fans for not looking like he cares. His mumbling interviews and almost half arsed answers to media questions has been the main contributor to that stigma amongst some fans. Seeing Lambert bounding up and down the touch line, waving his arms and shouting out Scottish instructions proved otherwise. To me they were the actions of a man that cares. He looked devastated when the equaliser went in and his kicking of the drinks container, when Benteke needlessly squandered possession, was a touch of the old John Gregory.
Out of the bottom three
Although Villa should have finished the game sitting above Newcastlein 16th place, 17th position is not to be scowled at. Psychologically it makes a huge difference to be able to look at the table and see Aston Villa above the relegation line. Simply imagine if that was the final game of the season. Yes letting a 2-0 lead slip away is incredibly frustrating but, if 1 point was enough to move out of the relegation zone the Villa would have just secured their Premiership status.
Overall it was a much better showing for Aston Villa compared to the recent shambles. There was enough glimpses in the game to give fan’s hope that they can avoid relegation. With Vlaar back, Dunne close to a return and with the hopeful acquisition of some sort of holding midfielder Villa will be safe.
It may only be faint but hope has been restored.
image: © ellbrown