Paul Lambert will have learned a great deal more about his Aston Villa side as they delivered a Jekyll and Hyde performance on Monday evening, coming from 2-0 behind against local rivals West Bromwich Albion to rescue a point.
The turning point came shortly before the hour mark as Lambert introduced Gabriel Agbonlahor, Fabian Delph and Andreas Weimann to the field, and the trio, who have been struggling for fitness in recent weeks, provided the team with all the energy and vigour that was missing earlier on in the match, despite not contributing to the scoresheet themselves.
Their impact was almost instantaneous, as Weimann saw a deflected shot turned round the post by Baggies goalkeeper Boaz Myhill, before Karim El Ahmadi pulled one back with a well executed volley. In the minutes that followed, an equaliser seemed inevitable, and it duly arrived 14 minutes from time, as Ashley Westwood fired a terrific strike into the bottom corner for his first goal for the club.
Prior to the changes, only one team looked capable of winning the game, as Villa struggled to get going. The starting XI had an unbalanced look, with neither Leandro Bacuna nor Ciaran Clark in their comfort zone, as they were forced to play as full-backs.
Clark was struggling to cope with the attacking talents of Morgan Amalfitano, while Bacuna, who has done well at right-back previously this season, failed to justify his selection ahead of Matthew Lowton on this occasion.
West Brom dominated the first half from the outset, and were two goals up after just 11 minutes due to the brilliance of Shane Long, though Villa did contribute to their downfall. For the first goal, neither centre-back was tracking the Irishman as he latched on to a long pass superbly, and fired past Brad Guzan.
Long’s finish for the second was again superb, but it was a gift from Villa’s perspective, as Bacuna’s pass went astray, allowing the striker to nip in and lift the ball over Guzan. And the visitors would be thankful that Stephane Sessegnon missed two gilt edged chances to put the game beyond doubt.
After coming off the bench, allowing Villa to play in their preferred formation, the substitutes changed the total complexion of what had been a one-sided encounter. Delph, probably the club’s best player this season, finally gave Villa some kind of foothold in the midfield battle, which had been dominated by Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob for the first hour.
Agbonlahor and Weimann provided the team with something different in attack, as again, West Brom had things too easy before they arrived on the pitch. Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak, as two similar players, failed to create openings while partnered together.
Overall, Lambert will receive the plaudits for making the triple change, and it was a game which emphasised the importance of the three who came on. They should be back from the start for Saturday’s game against the Premier League’s bottom club, Sunderland, and as a result, Villa will be all the stronger.
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