30 September 2012

Aston Villa Fight Back To Secure Point In Feisty Midlands Derby

By Joseph Chapman: https://twitter.com/jcwba16

Aston Villa fought back from a goal down to draw with midland neighbours West Brom in what eventually turned out to be a frantic derby match.

The Baggies had Shane Long to thank for giving the visitors the lead early on in the second half, but initially dropped Darren Bent came off the bench to rescue a point late on.

Bent made way for rejuvenated Gabriel Agbonlahor, who partnered Christian Benteke up front. Brad Guzan replaced Shay Given in goal, while Fabian Delph kept his place. There were starts from Marc Albrighton and Joe Bennett.
For the away side, James Morrison started after missing the cup tie with Liverpool midweek. Steven Reid, Liam Ridgewell and Peter Odemwingie were all absent, so Goran Popov made his debut at left back. There was also a start for Shane Long up front ahead of Romelu Lukaku, who dropped to the bench.

The opening stages were generally quite drab, both sides getting to grips with the ferocity of a fixture that had seen the home side dominate in recent years.

The first action came from Paul Lambert's side. Agbonlahor, who notched a brace against champions Manchester City in the 4-2 victory in the previous game, flashed a dangerous ball across the six yard box. Meant for fellow forward Benteke, the presence of McAuley was enough to see the ball behind for a goal kick.

Large periods of the play were quite scrappy, especially in the first half, perhaps what was expected of two rivals clashing, yet not an outcome yearned for. The away side, who won the fixture last year 1-2, should have tested Guzan when Gera found Long. The Irishman knoked the ball to Chris Brunt. The winger had time yet ballooned his shot first time over the bar.

Popov adapted quickly to the frantic nature of the English game and looked quite comfortable when in possession. Similar to Ridgewell in the sense of a full back who can attack, the Macedonian found himself in the area at one point and appealed for a penalty when the ball hit Lowton on the arm, but the shout was waved away.

Both sides offered aerial threats from set pieces, Olsson, McAuley, Benteke and Vlaar all players to aim for when delivering a free kick or a corner. After a bright Albion start, Villa found their feet and began to dominate possession. Twice Holman was thwarted by Foster, two stops that Lambert described after the game as 'world class'. The first was tipped over the bar when the Australian was given too much time to compose himself and crack an effort on target. Towards the end of the half, Holman again found the ball and his low shot deflected up off Jones, but again Foster was equal to it.

Benteke also had a couple of very good chances. The first was excellent build up play concerning Vlaar and Agbonlahor, but the Belgian curled a first time ball high and wide from the edge of the area. The following effort came about as the summer signing out-muscled McAuley and should have done better than blazing over from close range.

Brunt and Jones both had to come off for Albion before half time, Clarke sending on Dorrans and Tamas respectively to replace them.

H-T: 0-0

The second half looked to pick up where it had left off, but you felt a goal was needed to bring it to life. The ball was in the net, coming from the away side through Shane Long, but the striker had just strayed offside when he headed in a delicious Mulumbu cross.

However, the number nine was not to be denied, as he tapped in moments later from close range. Morrison was picked out on the right, after Lowton was the odd one out in Villa's offside trap. The Scottish midfielder picked out the only player wearing stripes in the box and Long was able to send Albion ahead. Long's fourth of the season, and the Baggies looked to have put Wednesday's cup disappointment behind them.

Straight away, Villa nearly responded with an immediate equaliser. But Gabriel Tamas was able to block Benteke's attempt on the line.

They came again, and Yacob was penalised for a foul on Benteke. Youngster Joe Bennett took the free kick, and whistled the ball past the far post- a let off for Albion.

Lambert rolled the dice and Bent's number came up and, in front of Roy Hodgson, the record signing entered the fray for Benteke. Clarke also made his final change, replacing scorer Long with the feisty Lukaku.

N'Zogbia, who also came off the subs bench, was influential late on. The winger shot wide before dancing away from a couple of challenges and Bent eventually curled over, where he would have backed himself to score.

But the big man finally did get his name on the score-sheet with ten minutes to go. After a corner resulted in a goalmouth scramble, Bent calmly stroked the ball home with his left foot from all of five yards.

For the final throes, the game was end to end and could have resulted in either team snatching the victory. Lukaku took advantage of a Vlaar slip to shoot at Guzan, but a Lowton deflection lifted it over the goalkeeper and onto the post.

If anyone deserved to win, it would have been the hosts, but the Baggies continue their good start to the season and remain above their midland counterparts.

Match ratings: AV- Guzan 6, Lowton 6, Vlaar 6, Clark 7, Bennett 7, Albrighton 6, El Ahmadi 7, Delph 6, Holman 7, Agbonlahor 7, Benteke 6 (Bannan 6, N'Zogbia 7, Bent 7)

WBA- Foster 7, Jones 5, McAuley 6, Olsson 8, Popov 6, Mulumbu 7, Yacob 6, Morrison 7, Long 7, Brunt 5, Gera 6 (Tamas 6, Lukaku 6, Dorrans 6)

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