Three things we learned: Aston Villa - West Brom
West Brom are quickly headed for relegation from the Premier League, and Aston Villa took their opportunity to add to their rivals’ misery at Villa Park on Sunday.
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Anwar El Ghazi put the home side ahead inside the opening 10 minutes, but Matheus Pereira equalized not too long later and Tyrone Mings turned the ball into his own net early in the second half. West Brom looked like escaping with three points, until Keinan Davis made something out of nothing in stoppage time for a 2-2 draw.
As a result, Aston Villa remain 11th in the Premier League table, now just one back of Arsenal in the race for 10th place and a top-half finish. West Brom, meanwhile, remain second-from-bottom, now just nine points adrift of safety with five games left to play.
3 things we learned: Aston Villa - West Brom
1. Life without Grealish not getting any better: Jack Grealish has been simply outstanding (6 goals, 10 assists in the Premier League) for Villa this season, and they miss him dearly (missed the last 10 games with a calf injury). In his absence, Dean Smith’s side has become a painfully predictable side which does all of its damage on the counter. Now, that’s not the worst thing in the world, because they’re an exceptional counter-attacking with Grealish on the field, and still a good one without him, but it leaves them one-dimensional and short on ideas when they hold 69 percent of possession, as they did on Sunday.
2. Plenty for Villa to build upon, though: With all of the above said, the individual pieces for a potent attack are in place for Smith. Provided Grealish stays this summer, Ollie Watkins will have a full Premier League season under his belt, and Anwar El Ghazi and Bertrand Traore have proven to be highly useful, versatile options. The key, though, is Watkins. I had questions over his suitability as a $36-million signing, and he’s done well in season no. 1 (12 goals, 4 assists), but he’s been inconsistent with finishing his chances (well below 50 percent on target) and sporadic with the goals (one every 232 minutes played — a goal every 2.5 games). Scoring in bunches the way he has this season means lengthy periods without a meaningful contribution.
3. Pereira’s Premier League place all but secure: Pereira has been a rare bright spot for West Brom this season (9 goals, 5 assists) — so bright, in fact, that he’s almost certain to leave the club this summer and remain a Premier League player. He’ll have his choice of bottom-half sides, with the likes of Watford, Brighton and Crystal Palace jumping out as potential landing spots.
Aston Villa put West Brom under immense pressure from the opening whistle, and were rewarded for their strong start less than 8 minutes in. First came a silky smooth team sequence as four Villa players combined to carve up the Baggies defense, then came Semi Ajayi running into Ross Barkley for a penalty kick. El Ghazi stepped to the spot and slotted past Sam Johnstone for 1-0.
Inexplicably, West Brom won a penalty with perhaps their first meaningful foray into the Aston Villa penalty area, in the 22nd minute. Ezri Konsa was caught needlessly tugging on the shoulder of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Maitland-Niles was happy to go to ground as their was no direct threat to the build-up. Pereira placed the ball in the upper-90 where Emiliano Martinez simply couldn’t reach it.
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The Baggies began half no. 2 better than they did the opening period, and they took the lead fewer than 120 seconds after the restart. Konsa slipped as he turned to retreat toward the Aston Villa goal, allowing Mbaye Diagne a free path into the penalty area. Diagne fired toward the far post and got some deflected help from Tyrone Mings, who was charged with the own goal, to make it 2-1.
Aston Villa couldn’t believe their poor luck in the 86th minute, when they had multiple chances to equalize but never got past the front side of the post. The ball fell to Watkins, who would have gotten a shot away with a better first touch in traffic before he was swarmed, and Davis’s follow-up from a tricky angle pinged off the woodwork from eight yards out.
The 91st-minute equalizer didn’t have to happen — and wouldn’t have happened — if only someone in a blue and white shirt took control of a harmless bouncing ball inside the West Brom penalty area. Instead, Johnstone and Kyle Bartley waited for the other to claim the ball as their own, and Davis snuck around to poke it home.