Aston Villa 2 - West Bromwich Albion 1
Albion self-destructed in fine style at Villa Park to give themselves a tough task in the second leg on Tuesday night. A strong first half performance saw them 1-0 up at half time thanks to Dwight Gayle pouncing on a pass that Glenn Whelan failed to control and finishing neatly past Jed Steer.
But a nightmare second half started with Craig Dawson having to be replaced by Tyrone Mears, then an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area by Conor Hourihane levelled the scores.
Four minutes later, Villa took the lead when Kieran Gibbs brought down Jack Grealish in the area and Tammy Abraham put away the resulting penalty. And as if that wasn't enough, Dwight Gayle had already picked up a booking for timewasting and his unnecessary lunge on Steer late in the game saw him pick up another and an early exit that will see him miss the return fixture.
With Hal Robson-Kanu already suspended for similar stupidity Albion will need to turn round a one goal deficit with just Jay Rodriguez up front.
Bit of a sickener this one because I thought, given everything, Shan got his tactics spot on for most of the game, the players executed it well and in the end Villa just got that rub of the green with refereeing decisions.
I was worried about 3-5-2 so was relieved to see early on that we were actually 5-4-1 with JRod out wide. We frustrated Villa and Gayle took his goal, a half chance on his wrong foot, so well.
In truth we didn’t look in trouble and if anything should really have done more on the break but our decision making in really good opportunities was so poor - Rodriguez and Johansen especially again.
I thought we were comfortable even after half time with Mears being dependable again and Holgate arguably better than Dawson in the back 3.
Phillips did look shattered but after he went off for Murphy our discipline dropped slightly and I think the first goal came from him losing the ball carelessly out wide on the edge of our box.
It was a great strike but he was afforded oceans of space - watching the goal back, Johansen is the player who follows the ball to a place where there’s already plenty of cover.
The 2nd goal was careless - Gibbs still seemed to be angry about another marginal free kick that went Villa’s way but he was nowhere near the ball and Grealish gratefully tumbled over his leg.
I thought Gayle’s sending off was unbelievably harsh but in general I think it was one of those days when we didn’t get any marginal decisions our way and Villa got them all - the penalties for and against, the arm in Gayle’s face, the foul against Phillips when he lunged thin air, 3 feet from any player. There were too many to mention.
It looks a massive task now - I can’t see where the goals will come from other than set plays. We’ll need every attacking option available on the bench and us having to attack will suit Villa.
On the positive side they really weren’t any great shakes - it’s doable so we live in hope.
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