West Brom 2-1 Aston Villa – Match Report
36 Jara (Tamas 51)
18 Vela (Fortune 75)
24 Odemwingie (Tchoyi 90+2)
13 Myhill, 6 Pablo, 26 Hurst, 30 Tamas, 5 Tchoyi, 10 Miller, 28 Fortune
5 Dunne (Clark 51)
2 L Young
19 Petrov (Albrighton 86)
20 Reo-Coker (Pires 68)
33 Marshall, 21 Clark, 24 Cuellar, 8 Pires, 12 Albrighton, 13 Bradley, 16 Delph
A pivotal game at the Hawthorns saw a revitalised West Bromwich Albion side under Roy Hodgson take on an equally resurgent Aston Villa under caretaker manager Gary McAllister (on that note, get well soon Gerard Houllier. All Villans wish you the best in your recovery). The home side set out in a defensive-minded 4-2-3-1, with Carlos Vela hugging the line on the right and James Morrison given license to drift across the pitch in support of the lone striker Peter Odemwingie. Villa played their customary 4-4-2 (though the 4-2-2-2 it morphed into in its attacking stages against Stoke was conspicuous by its absence, perhaps due to the more box-to-box roles the midfield took) with Gabriel Agbonlahor playing around Darren Bent and Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, as ever, drifting inside off the wings.
Villa began well, pressing high and looking to bring their dangerous wingers into play whenever they could, as well as test the Albion defence through their pace-heavy frontline. The first goal came from nothing; Gabriel Agbonlahor surged into the box before intelligently moving the ball back to Downing. Downing crossed it in low towards Bent, and Abdoulaye Meite’s outstretched leg diverted it in past the stranded Scott Carson. Within the first five minutes Villa were ahead, and continued to threaten as they simply overpowered and outclassed a shaky West Brom midfield. Quite apart from anything, the differences in work rate was noticeable, with Nigel Reo-Coker buzzing around in midfield and Agbonlahor closing down defenders and deep midfielders alike. West Brom most promising route of attack looked to be long balls over the top of the away side’s defence for Odemwingie to run onto, not such a bad strategy considering Villa’s high line and less than mobile defenders.
Villa’s ball retention and pressing continued, and they had 61% of possession in the first 15 minutes. West Brom grew into the game however, and their passing style, a vestige from the Roberto Di Matteo reign, resulted a slick series of interchanges finished with an excellent long range Youssuf Mulumbu curler being palmed away by Brad Friedel. The game began to settle and even out as Villa’s early pressing tailed off and they dropped deeper to negate the pace of Vela and Odemwingie in behind. This had the desired effect; West Brom’s crossing was mostly ineffective due to the aerial prowess of James Collins and Richard Dunne, and Villa only really looked threatened when they were caught on the break.
Villa were also lacking penetration, however, as West Brom defended well. Albion very much followed the Hodgson trademark; deep, narrow, well organised and compact. As West Brom began to hold onto the ball more Villa settled down and began to play on the break in order utilise their speedy front line, with one such break resulting in Carson having to be alert to tip away a Walker cross. Most of Villa’s attacks came down the right, where Downing and Walker were combining well, the young Tottenham loanee getting up and down the field well as he has done all season. As the break approached, Villa took control again (ostensibly through the orders of McAllister) through upping their tempo and pressure again. Bent scored from an offside position and Agbonlahor’s shot was blocked as Villa looked for a second before half-time.
Second half and West Brom hit back
After the break, the pattern of play continued. Villa continued their resurgence, with slick passing leading to an unmarked Petrov being set free in the box. With all the time in the world, his square ball found nobody and was cleared. Shortly afterwards, both sides made changes, with a slightly injured Dunne coming off for young centre-back Ciaran Clark and Gonzalo Jara, who had had a torrid game against the lively Ashley Young, off for Gabriel Tamas. The game got more and more end-to-end, with Vela being fairly tackled by Luke Young inside the box and moments later Kyle Walker having a cross blocked with Bent lurking. Another Albion penalty call was turned down, as Clark bodychecked Odemwingie just inside box, though the Nigerian striker looked like he went down easily.
In the 59thminute, Villa’s Achilles heel this season was exposed once more. A deep freekick was headed back across goal, and bad defending coupled with quick thinking by Odemwingie allowed the Albion frontman to volley high into the net after a goalmouth scramble. Albion had little time to dwell on their goal, however, as three minutes later Paul Scharner hauled down Stiliyan Petrov in the centre of the pitch and received a second yellow card. Villa scented blood, and immediately took control of the game by the scruff of the neck. West Brom dropped extremely deep and defended in with their two lines of four right next to each other in the defensive phase. Villa poured forward in numbers, threatening both in open play and set-pieces. With a sudden parity of numbers in midfield, Villa brought on Robert Pires in place of Nigel Reo-Coker; an odd decision, though in theory an attacking one. The away side turned the screw, with Agbonlahor going close with a header and Pires lashing over a volley from outside the area. The match continued in this vein for much of the second half, with Villa threatening through both passing moves in the centre and crosses from their wingers and full-backs. Villa’s dominance was such that they felt comfortable leaving Richard Dunne by himself at the back, with James Collins often joining the attack to offer a physical presence.
The game was turned on its head by a late goal, however, with Mulumbu allowed to sneak through the centre, hold off (Luke) Young and tap in a ricocheted shot past Friedel in the 84th minute. A desperate Villa threw everyone forward, Collins now playing permanently as an auxiliary striker, and Ashley Young (predictably) blazing a freekick miles over the bar. Marc Albrighton again was a late substitute, but it was all too little, too late, and West Brom held out to record their first win over Aston Villa for over a quarter of a century.
Analysis: WBA’s front four
West Brom’s front four had a lot of defensive duties to fulfil today, but there was interest in how they set up in an attacking sense. Firstly, Carlos Vela was asked to hug the right (or left, as he and Morrison switched on occasion) touchline, unusually considering his normal game as a wide forward involves cutting inside into the channels. On the other flank, James Morrison was given license to roam across the field, linking with all three members of the attack and occasionally Youssuf Mulumbu. Peter Odemwingie and Simon Cox, on the other hand, performed the normal roles associated with their positions – Odemwingie tested his pace and movement against the centre-backs, whilst Cox looked to play balls into him and play ‘around’ him, finding pockets of space in the hole.
Vela and Morrison’s differing duties can be seen on the chalkboards to the right. With Vela (top) mostly sticking to the right, stretching the pitch and playing up against Luke Young, Morrison is roaming across the pitch. That said, his tendencies to leave his flank often meant that the game’s most potent combination, Stewart Downing and Kyle Walker on the Villa right, were allowed two on one situations against former Villa full-back Nicky Shorey, who played decently considering his lack of cover (though he had the assistance of Paul Scharner until the latter’s sending off).
Analysis: Stewart Downing
On the face of it, Stewart Downing had rather a mediocre game; 53 passes attempted, 37 successful, 3 shots, 1 off target, 1 on and 1 blocked, three out of four tackles won. However, he was the game’s most incisive and impressive player, and with the aid of the ever-impressive Kyle Walker provided a constant thorn in Albion’s side. Quite apart from linking up well with Walker and Gabriel Agbonlahor, his all-round game is much improved. Before he came to Villa, Downing was very much an old-style English winger (or a NewBeckham, as they are often dubbed). Looking to get up and down the wing, contributing in both defence and attack, his main weapon was a lethal cross – he was mostly a provider. Now, he is much more rounded, playing on both the right and his natural left side of midfield, drifting inside or staying wide, and offering a direct goal threat with both feet. The age old conundrum for defenders against truly good wingers is now something he can take advantage of; either they show him down the line and allow him the chance to utilise his excellent crossing, or show him down the inside and allow him to create and take shots from range.
It would seem the full-back he was up against, Nicky Shorey took the former approach of allowing him down the flank. The reasons for this are twofold: first, Downing’s right foot is still weaker than his left, though it has improved. Second, the towering central defensive pair of Abdoulaye Meite and Jonas Olsson were winning most of their headers, again aided by Paul Scharner who is comfortable at centre-back and slotted in there occasionally. No matter Darren Bent’s recent run of two goals with his head in as many games, it would have taken a rather big slice of luck for him to beat the Hodgson-coached Albion back line with something as simple as a header. By the end of the match though, Downing couldn’t do anything, as his pace was nullified against a deep defensive line and the penalty box was packed with defenders.
All in all, it was a disappointing night for Villa fans in a game in which they dominated but familiar problems raised their heads once more. Defensive mix ups and a frail mental state have contributed to Villa throwing away too many points this season, and they will need to be addressed for the next one. West Brom, on the other hand, can go away in high spirits after leapfrogging their Midlands rivals and all but assuring their safety for this season.