Dave Woodhall watches as Villa draw 2-2 at Albion.
As I never tire of telling outsiders who think that this region is a footballing backwater and always has been, Villa playing Albion is the oldest local rivalry in league football. These two clubs were knocking lumps out of each other when there was no such thing as two major clubs in Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool or North London.
It’s not got the same edge as it used to have but this season promises to be the first in a long while where both clubs have something to play for, and it’s certainly unique (as far as I know) to go into the game with them the two top scorers in their division.
So, carry on with the free scoring and good form? Or down to earth with a bump? A bit of both as it happens, although it wasn’t entirely the team’s fault.
The first half was end to end with Villa on top at first, going into the lead with a shot from Anwar El Ghazi that got the sort of deflection teams full of confidence get. Villa should really have gone on from there, but let Albion into the match and the equaliser came from yet more defensive confusion that we really need to sort out – Alan Hutton made the initial mistake but James Chester should have done better with the final ball.
Into the second half and Albion started as they finished the first, but soon ran out of ideas and Villa began to take control. If El Ghazi’s first goal had an element of luck, his second had an element of genius as a twenty-five yard strike looped beyond the keeper and into the net. Villa were well on top now and another goal would have killed the game off. Unfortunately, Tammy Abraham chose today to have his first real off-night for the Villa – if there’s a Curse of the Manager of the Month, perhaps there’s another one for the player who wins their award. When you add everything up, though, he’s still well in credit and can’t really be blamed for one poor performance.
For ten or fifteen minutes Villa played some of the most sublime football imaginable, and El Ghazi should have been awarded another goal for the outrageous piece of skill that left the player trying to mark him attempting to put his boots back on the right feet but there were no further goals and the team started to step back a bit, which was hardly surprising given the intensity they’ve been playing with for the past month.
Albion started lumping the ball forward with Villa still attempting to counter, and as the ninety minutes edged towards their end one of the things that’s making Dean Smith so popular became apparent. You’re two-one up in the dying minutes of a tense local derby with a promotion rival. Most teams would be time-wasting, passing the ball around, running it onto the corners to kill a few seconds. Dean Smith’s team sets up another attack.
Then came the goal that should never have been. You saw it, everyone in the ground saw it. Sorry, everyone except the referee. We should have had the match won by then, but that’s not to excuse a decision that could cost us at the end of the season. The last time I saw a handball as blatant as that one the culprit lifted a trophy for us ten years later.
Still, looking at the situation as objectively as possible, we went to another team above us in the league and should have come away with three points. The reaction of both sets of supporters at the end told the whole story – we were disappointed, they reacted as though they’d won the league, and we shall see if those who ran on the pitch when they scored are accused of dragging football back to the Dark Ages. I’d have been glad of nine points from the last five games and we not only got eleven, it should have been fifteen.
I’m trying to look at it rationally, and probably failing, but I honestly think that at the moment the Villa are the best team in the league. Roll on next Saturday.