Villa’s penalty prize

Villa book a Wembley date after a dramatic night at the Hawthorns. Dave Woodhall reports.

As I said on Saturday, Villa and Albion go back a long way. We’ve played more important games against them than any other club and although some have been bigger, none have been potentially so lucrative as victory in a play-off that saw Villa heading for Wembley for the second year in a row.

There have also been better games, and certainly better performances than this one from a Villa side who again seemed less assured than the team that beat all-comers to get into this position.

Maybe they’re feeling the strains of that record-breaking run at the end of a long season, perhaps the occasion got to them. Or it might be that they were just unable to foil opponents who played most of both games as though their sole aim was to get to penalties.

Tuesday night’s second leg was certainly part of that script. Albion put Villa under pressure with tactics that were as straightforward as they were at Villa Park. Long balls, long throws, and they had some success, bringing the aggregate scores level after 29 minutes when the Villa defence could have been a bit more decisive.

Villa improved in the second half without really looking in control until another sending-off, this time Albion captain Chris Brunt. There could be no argument with this one, Brunt having already attacked McGinn on a couple of previous occasions.

Villa’s best chances came in what remained of normal time, Sam Johnstone doing particularly well to save from Albert Adomah. And so on to extra time, which as so often is the case, produced little to talk about.

Villa’s run to the play-offs was built on exciting performances, although not always for the right reasons, but the way the team went about taking the penalties that won this tie was with almost total efficiency.

Albion missed their two openers, Villa scored theirs and although Adomah failed in his attempt, Tammy Abraham made no mistake. Villa were off to Wembley again, and you just know that the team will be a totally different prospect this time round.

The reason, of course, was out there celebrating with his team and the rest of our supporters. I’ve seen plenty of winning celebrations but even allowing for bias I can’t remember ever seeing one where the barrier between players, management team and fans was so negligible. Last time we knocked Albion out of a competition supporters invaded the pitch; this time the players invaded the stand.

It might not have been a great game but it was was a memorable event, a celebration of how far Villa have come in just three months. We’ve still got a long way to go but watching those scenes at the Hawthorns makes you realise that anything is possible.