West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Aston Villa Six Things: late heartbreak for Villa

Rodriguez ‘grabs’ the equalizer – bbc.co.uk

Jay Rodriguez’s controversial injury-time equalizer ensured a 2-2 draw between West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa at the Hawthorns on Friday night. Here’s our Six Things from the contest.

El-Ghazi beats Hegazi

Aston Villa’s wing-play has been outstanding in recent weeks and that threat was in evidence once again here. Down the left, Yannick Bolasie’s capacity to quickly change the pace and direction of his runs struck fear into West Brom’s rear-guard; on the right, Anwar El-Ghazi was not quite as direct, yet still caused problems with his trickery and quality. It was the Dutch winger who bagged the opener; following one of many passing moves, he cut inside before seeing a motionless Ahmed Hegazi deflect his shot past Sam Johnstone.

Brilliant Barnes-led breakaway

At a time when the Villans appeared to have camped in the opposing half, West Brom showed why they are the best counter-attacking side in the Championship. A clearance to the left-wing found Harvey Barnes; the Leicester loanee profited from two slips from veteran Alan Hutton before squaring for Dwight Gayle, who got in from the right channel ahead of Neil Taylor to slot home. Although some would say that goal was partly a side-effect of Dean Smith’s philosophy, to attack regardless of the circumstances, it is also down to the physical limitations of the full-backs. Once Villa find more athletic performers in those positions, they should be able to better guard against these types of breakaways, but Albion showed be given full marks for the quality with which they capitalized on that vulnerability.

Albion’s aging midfield

After an awkward start to the second period, El-Ghazi fired Villa in front with a spectacular strike. After some excellent work from Jack Grealish, the wide man picked up the ball unchallenged before cutting onto his left foot and unleashing a shot that flew inside the near-post. Although goal was delightfully taken, it also highlighted Albion’s weaknesses: neither veteran Gareth Barry nor midfield partner Jake Livermore had the stamina to sustain a high-intensity display and close down El-Ghazi with the required vigour.

Abraham’s chances

As much as West Brom fell apart for a 15-minute period midway through the second half, the superior fitness levels of Villa – John McGinn particularly – allowed them to create chances on the break. Tammy Abraham spurned over from four-yards, then headed off-target shortly afterwards in a performance that saw him take as many as eight touches inside the penalty area, four of which were shots, yet still not score. Although Abraham’s movement, athleticism, work rate and link-up play were all excellent, the finishing touch that had seen him score nine in four over November eluded him.

Rodriguez ‘grabs’ the equalizer

Aside from one snap-shot from Dwight Gayle, West Brom did not create many chances when chasing the game late on, yet Jay Rodriguez grabbed the equalizer in injury-time. After Orjan Nyland failed to claim Matt Phillips’ right-wing cross, Rodriguez appeared to twice make contact with the ball via his hand before it crossed the line, handing Albion a scarcely-deserved point. Moore praised his side’s contribution to an open game, but he should be under no illusions as to the need to re-build his side’s midfield next month.

Villa making progress

Smith’s side will be disappointed not to have accrued three points in this derby; the goals they conceded re-enforces the need for January tweaks in the full-back areas as well as a change of goalkeeper. The game though was another reminder of the extreme attacking potential in this Villa side, which could have scored five goals had they been more clinical. After facing two automatic promotion contenders on their own turf in successive games – and looking the better side on both occasions – it is clear they will be serious challengers.