Villa beat Crystal Palace and Dave Woodhall watches all sorts of remarkable happenings.
Crystal Palace at home will never be a game to particularly look forward to, but the arrival of the Pride of Croydon would tell us a lot about where Villa really stand in the Premier League pecking order. So far we’ve had easy wins in the games we expected to win and worryingly poor results in the ‘anything here’s a bonus’ ones. Palace, who you know will finish mid-table, are the sort of opposition that any team with aspirations should be looking to beat without much fuss. Or beat, at least.
The team Unai Emery put out was as good as could be expected, with enough flair and plenty of cover on the bench. The team responded with a good first half, although there were few chances, Ollie Watkins missing the best after getting between the Palace defence. Moussa Diaby then showed an incredible first touch before putting the ball in the back of the net with his second although the goal was disallowed because a fraction of his toecap was offside.
Nil-nil at half-time and the general feeling was that Emery would change things round if the score stayed the same for much longer after the break. It didn’t, but unfortunately that was because Palace scored when Emiliano Martinez proved that he’s human after all by slipping on the damp grass at exactly the wrong time. I’d seen Brian Little outside before the game – perhaps he could give a few lessons in travelling over wet surfaces.
The goal knocked Villa back and the team seemed disjointed for a time afterwards. Youri Tielemans, who’d been saying during the week that he wanted to show his worth, was given the chance to do just that, replacing the out of form Boubacar Kamara, while Nicolo Zaniolo, who’d showed flashes of brilliance but not a great deal of end product, came off in the hope that Leon Bailey would have one of his on days.
There was little improvement at this point, then Jhon Duran arrived onto the pitch in the place of John McGinn and Villa began to look livelier. Watkins had hit the post which a shot that rebounded onto Palace keeper Sam Johnston’s head and just out of play. Such was the power of Watkins’ attempt that Johnston collapsed to the ground in agony and appeared to be suffering serious injury but he eventually made a miraculous recovery and it looked like yet another one of these days.
Three minutes to go, time running out and Lucas Digne played a ball to Duran who controlled, turned and volleyed home an equaliser that not only levelled the score but from then on Palace’s litany of injuries cleared up to the extent that none of them went down again. Not only can Duran score goals, he can also cure the lame. The goal drew comparison with Christian Benteke at his best, and there was also a touch of the brief flash of genius that was Luc Nilis. You can’t say much better than that.
Deep into stoppage time and Tielemans’ through ball put in Watkins, who was brought down and the subsequent VAR inquest gave Douglas Luiz the chance to score from another penalty. Deep, deep into stoppage time; Diaby draws Palace’s defence and pulls the ball back to Bailey, running into the box totally unmarked, to make sure.
It wasn’t as easy as Villa’s other wins this season, although Palace were always going to be hard to beat. The team hasn’t hit top gear yet, one or two of them haven’t reached the heights of last season but if some of the others can keep up their recent form they’re going to be a bit special.