Aston Villa have the upper hand for the second leg at the Hawthorns after being West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at Vill Park.
Words by Harry Trend (@HazaTrand)
Aston Villa will take a one goal lead going into their play-off semi final return leg against West Brom after a second-half screamer from Conor Hourihane and a Tammy Abraham penalty.
Villa went close early on. From a short corner John McGinn chipped the ball to Glenn Whelan who headed over.
Then the away side took a swipe. Jay Rodriguez let rip a curling side footed shot which Jed Steer expertly tipped onto the crossbar.
Our full backs were bombing up the pitch on every occasion in support of our wingers. Ahmed Elmohamady’s early cross was volleyed wide by Abraham on the spin.
But after 16 minutes Albion were 1-0 up. Glenn Whelan received a pass from Grealish, but the ball rolled under his foot allowing an alert Dwight Gayle to pick up the pieces. From 20 yards, the West Brom striker found the bottom corner.
James Shan’s plan was clearly working. Despite having the lion’s share of possession, Villa were being forced out wide. The Pride were putting balls into box only to see them being headed away by the aerially gifted West Brom back three. Meanwhile, the away side were trying to hit us on the counter – a tactic that almost worked a couple of times.
The second half started as the first ended, a game between the Villa attackers and West Brom defenders. However, Villa were now attacking with more purpose, Abraham glancing wide from Anwar El Ghazis cross.
Minutes later Jack Grealish’s shot from range was saved comfortably by Johnstone.
To shake things up, Smith brought on Conor Hourihane and Andre Green. Thankfully it paid off. With 74 minutes gone, Grealish rolled the ball perfectly to Hourihane who powered it past Johnstone. It was a shot so sweet the former Villa keeper had no chance. It was time to kick on.
And that we did. Five minutes Grealish was taken down by a sliding Kieran Gibbs in the box allowing Graham Scott to order the penalty. From the spot Abraham slotted in, it seemed our pressure was finally being rewarded.
Moreover, it was all crumbling for the Baggies. With a matter of moments to go, Gayle received his marching orders, the Baggies goal scorer carded for a second time after trying to get onto James Morrison’s cross and instead clattering into Jed Steer.
In the dying moments Green blazed wide from close range, by this point only one team looked like scoring and it was us. With Gayle suspended we can go into Tuesday’s game in confidence, in the words of Bon Jovi, “we’re halfway there!”