Triple change inspires Villa comeback

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty ImagesAshley Westwood had plenty to shout about after his stunning second half strike earned Aston Villa a point at West Brom.

A point that feels more like three. Villa were dreadful for the majority of the Monday night match at the Hawthorns, but a second half comeback spared blushes, saved face, and secured a 2-2 draw against West Brom in an eventful West Midlands derby.

- Report: West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa

How Villa turned this one around was quite remarkable, and it owed much to a triple substitution with little over half an hour remaining. Gabby Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph, all of whom had missed Villa's previous match and who were all injury doubts in the build-up to this game, galvanised the comeback by injecting new-found belief. It was the introduction of this trio that altered the balance of the match, and earned Villa a point that must border on the miraculous, considering all that had gone on earlier in the night.

Paul Lambert's team were second best for so much of the derby, it was difficult for even the most positive of visiting fans to find something to cling on to. West Brom were slicker, sharper, smarter. A couple of yards quicker without the ball, a couple of seconds speedier with it. Villa were out of sorts, slow, sloppy and ponderous.

Recent performances had been built on the foundations of a solid defence, with Villa going into the game off the back of three successive clean sheets away from home. The last time Villa had conceded while visiting Premier League opposition was back in August at Chelsea. It took West Brom all of two minutes to shatter that sequence. Chris Brunt's ball forward was accurate, though hardly intricate, but dissected Villa's backline all the same. Shane Long's first touch brilliantly foxed Nathan Baker, and his second sent the ball rasping past Brad Guzan.

On ten minutes, Long scored again. This time the approach work was all down to Villa. Leandro Bacuna's backpass was delivered into no-man's land, and Long's finish was again superb, chipped beyond Guzan and just under the crossbar.

Bacuna was one of several Villa players making his first appearance in this fixture. Yacouba Sylla, Aleksandar Tonev and Libor Kozak were the others, and their new exposure to the white-hot atmosphere on an icy-cold night at the Hawthorns showed. Sylla, usually dependable, was ragged, giving probably his worst performance in a Villa shirt. Tonev, despite one dangerous early strike which deflected to trouble Boaz Myhill, was just too loose and casual.

One moment summed up his lack of focus, completely switching off during an Albion free-kick and allowing Morgan Amalfitano to walk away from him, into space, receive the short pass, and send over a searching cross which Stephane Sessegnon really should have scored from.

Kozak was better, showing strength up front, a decent touch, and providing Villa's best moment of the half when he expertly controlled Christian Benteke's headed flick-on and hit a fierce volley against the top of the West Brom crossbar. But generally, Villa were poor and West Brom rampant. Sessegnon's miss came in the 18th minute, and the Baggies could have been 3-0 up and clear halfway through the half.

The clamour for Lambert to make changes and introduce Agbonlahor, Weimann and Delph was obvious. The Villa manager resisted until the 56th minute, when he then threw all three on together. The team's shape immediately improved, with Delph giving more presence wide on the left than Tonev had offered, Benteke pushing further forward to again become the centre-forward (he had tucked in deeper behind Kozak for the first hour), and Bacuna encouraged to push on.

Villa's visiting support grew noisy, and Weimann's instant strike nearly crept past Myhill, only to take a deflection and roll a yard wide. But the momentum was Villa's. Bacuna's cross was half-won by Weimann before falling to Karim El Ahmadi, who, arriving in the box with a well-timed run, hooked the ball past Myhill.

Minutes later, Agbonlahor did well to chase a lost cause to the goal-line, turn back on his right foot and send a deep cross into the Albion area. It was cleared only as far as Ashley Westwood, who sent a 20-yard drive into the bottom corner -- a spectacular way for the player to score his first Villa goal.

Lambert will no doubt face questions because of his decision not to start with any -- or all -- of three of his strongest players, but the likelihood is that none of them were fully fit to play from the start. Delph looked lively enough, though both Weimann and Agbonlahor appeared short of fitness and in nowhere near good enough shape to have managed 90 minutes. Their impacts were short, but effective.

A third, and winning, goal would have been too far-fetched for Villa to dream about, and, indeed, the late pressure was West Brom's. A draw maintained the recent status quo between Villa and Albion, a fourth straight stalemate, and an exact repeat of last season's 2-2 encounter back in January. On that occasion, it was Villa who let a two-goal lead slip and departed the Hawthorns cursing a missed opportunity. This time around, however, it is undeniably Villa's players who can take greater satisfaction from a well-earned point.

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