Villa lose to Spurs at the death. Dave Woodhall reports.
The big question before kick-off was whether this game should have gone ahead. The pitch was fine, the weather wasn’t too bad but the storms of the past 24 hours had made getting to Villa Park anything from difficult to impossible and left roads close to the ground flooded. In such circumstances there was a case for postponement, but it’s on TV so what’s a bit of inconvenience and a few empty seats when there’s a schedule to fill?
Tyrone Mings out ill and Danny Drinkwater starting was another cause for unease. Villa always seem to suffer more unusual causes of absence than other clubs so tonsilitis would be par for the course while starting Drinkwater now seems to be the blind spot that Dean Smith used to reserve for Henri Lansbury.
Games against Spurs always bring back memories of how we used to be the team they dreaded playing, and how easily fortunes can change. A couple of bad decisions on one hand and a few shrewd transfer deals on the other can see one team rise as quickly as another falls. Villa certainly kicked off with more hope than expectation, yet settled well and were worth the goal that was scored within ten minutes from a cross by Anwar El Ghazi that was always heading into the net one way or another.
There were chances to add to this either side of Spurs’ equaliser, another in the long lost of wonderstrikes that players reserve for coming up against the Villa. Then into first half stoppage time and Bjorn Engels made his first major contribution to the game, as did VAR. Pepe Reina did well to save the initial penalty but the rebound fell for the first player to react, which unfortunately wasn’t a defender.
The team’s reaction to this setback was commendable, and the equaliser from Engels was as deserved as Villa’s opener. Both teams had chances although as the game wound down, Spurs began to get on top and Reina came into his own. Four minutes of stoppage time were announced, and the Villa keeper had the ball in his hands with less than ten seconds remaining. If he’d held onto it a bit longer we’d have very likely seen the traditional ‘referee blows the final whistle as it’s in the air’. Instead it was punted downfield and came straight back. Whichever defender got to it first had only to hammer it back, or into touch, or knock it sideways. You know the rest.
Trying to draw some advantages from such a sickener, Villa were without important players through the spine of the team. We haven’t really missed Tom Heaton as much as was feared, and at the other end of the pitch Mbwana Samatta looks a quality addition. The absence of Tyrone Mings, though, was the single biggest factor why Villa lost this one. He gets the ball in the closing seconds, it’s safe. And there’s no comparison between Danny Drinkwater and John McGinn, whose return can’t come a moment too soon.
Villa travel to Southampton on Saturday, coming up against opponents who looked doomed a couple of months ago and are now sitting comfortable in mid-table. If we play as well as we did against Spurs – and despite the understandable disappointment Villa more than matched Champions League hopefuls for most of the match – we can easily get a result there. But one thing Villa are good at, even better than handing out points courtesy of stupid mistakes, is raising or lowering their game enough to just fail to match the opposition.