By Jonathan Parkin
Still without a striker, Aston Villa went into their third consecutive match with a makeshift front-line. Opponents, Brighton, had been equally as blunt up front in recent times and had only won one of their last eight games in all competitions. This must have been chalked up by Dean Smith as a very winnable game for the boys in claret and blue, especially after seeing off the Seagulls at Villa Park earlier this season.
Villa needed to bounce back after a thumping at the hands of Manchester City a week previous, anything would be an improvement in reality, and a show of fight and character would be welcomed with open arms by the Villa faithful. After all, they needed to believe they could survive relegation this season.
Smith made several changes from the team that was battered by Man City, with new loan signing Pepe Reina the most notable inclusion. Matt Targett and Fred Guilbert returned to the fold, looking to give the Villa some much needed attacking impetus down the flanks, something that Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohamady failed to deliver.
The book of footballing clichés can come out, as the Villans really had a game of two halves.
The first was lacklustre and lifeless on the whole. The unimaginative punting of the ball to an isolated Anwar El Ghazi became tiring after about the second of many attempts, and Brighton played through Villa’s lines with ease. There was little to no effort to close down midfielder Davy Propper, who recycled the ball well and created attacks from deep. At half-time Villa found themselves one down from a Leandro Trossard goal, after they failed to deal with a Brighton counter-attack.
In the second-half however, the Villa boys upped the ante greatly. Attempts to get the ball to Jack Grealish were much more successful, and with the introduction of Indian Vassilev and Douglas Luiz, the Villans started to spring into life.
Grealish fired decisively home for a deserved equaliser after a spell of pressure, and it remained 1-1 until the final whistle.
With the first-half taken into consideration, it certainly feels like a point gained rather than two lost, though at times in the second-half, Villa looked the more likely to grab all three points.
It can only be hoped that they take that second half performance to Villa Park on Tuesday, for a must-win against Watford.
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Pepe Reina – 7
It was odd to say the least to see Pepe Reina in a Villa shirt. The former Spain international looked calm and unphased when called upon, and his distribution was very handy. It looked as if Brighton had pulled ahead late on when Neal Maupay volleyed towards goal, but the 37-year-old got across brilliantly to parry the ball wide. Reina will certainly provide the same calming presence that Tom Heaton provides at the back.
Frederic Guilbert – 6
Frederic Guilbert was energetic as ever down the right-hand side. His defensive work was certainly poor in places however, despite the fact he made a number of good tackles. He failed to track runners at key moments, most notably when he gave Trossard plenty of space to get his shot away for the opener. In the second half he provided a good option on the attack and pressured the Brighton left flank well.
Ezri Konsa – 6
Uncharacteristically for Ezri Konsa, his passing was very poor. This was contributed to by the number of long balls being played, as the centre-back played eight long balls, none of which found their target. Defensively he certainly wasn’t the most problematic of the back three, although could him and Mings have done better with the goal?
Tyrone Mings – 7
Tyrone Mings held the back three together once again. He was a commanding presence that swept up from the mistakes of Kortney Hause several times. He blocked more shots than any other Villa player, which highlights the England international’s ability to be in the right place at the right time. His afternoon nearly started badly when he tried to leave the ball for Reina, who wasn’t ready to receive it, and thus had to punch clear. Mings recovered from this and put in an assured performance.
Kortney Hause – 5
Hopefully Kortney Hause won’t be playing pass the parcel any time soon, as he really struggles to pass when under pressure. It wasn’t his general accuracy that was the issue, as he often moved the ball on to Mings or Targett, it’s his judgement that was very questionable when the easy pass wasn’t available. His loss of the ball in midfield created the attack that lead to the Brighton Goal, and that wasn’t the only time where he was dispossessed. Hause still has much to learn, and needs to be much more composed on the ball.
Matt Targett – 5.5
The Villa attack faltered on numerous occasions in the first half because of Matt Targett’s inaccurate passing. Every ball down the line the wingback tried went straight out of play or to a Brighton player. This constantly meant that the pressure was put straight back on the Villans after they regained the ball. This also contributed to Jack Grealish not getting on the ball enough in the first half, as Targett was the main link from the defence into the Villa skipper.
In the second half Targett improved as Villa were on the attack, and he provided more than Neil Taylor certainly would have in his place.
Marvelous Nakamba – 6.5
Marvelous Nakamba, much like the rest of the Villa team, improved as the game went on. He pressed the Brighton midfield reasonably well, and his passing was much tidier than Villa fans will be used to seeing. Villa’s extended positive spell came slowly grinding to a halt once the energetic midfielder left the field, showing his influence on the second half.
Danny Drinkwater – 6
Danny Drinkwater faced a much easier task in midfield than he did last time out. He battled well and won the ball back a few times impressively. Despite this, he still seemed off the pace. The chances that he had on the edge of the box were pretty decent, and he snatched at them. Maybe playing Drinkwater and Nakamba was Smith taking a safety first approach, as there was an improvement once the more dynamic Douglas Luiz replaced the former Leicester man.
Trezeguet – 6.5
Much of what attacking impetus there was from the Villans in the first half, came from Trezeguet. The Egyptian tried hard but struggled to impact the game from the right. He did well to create some good crossing opportunities, the only issue was there was barely anyone getting into the box.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6
Hold up play definitely isn’t one of Anwar El Ghazi’s strengths. The Dutchman was bullied by Dunk and Webster for the entirety of the time he played up front. The ball just wouldn’t stick with him, and his attempts at link up play with Grealish were very ineffective. Once he moved out wide however, he improved and showed that he definitely shouldn’t be playing up top.
Jack Grealish © – 7.5
Supply Jack Grealish with the ball and Villa have a chance in any game. Brighton did well in the first half to cut the supply for Grealish to run on, and so he was restricted to one run, from which he still nearly scored.
Once Targett remembered how to pass, Grealish came into the game more and caused havoc in the Brighton half. He took his second opportunity emphatically. Hopefully when a striker finally comes in, Smith will consider playing Grealish more centrally. It would get him on the ball much more, which is the only way Villa can create chances at the moment.
Off the Bench
Douglas Luiz (67) – 7.5
The frustration with Douglas Luiz continues. He helped completely change the game in Villa’s favour after he was subbed on, and his pass to Grealish for the goal was excellent. The Brazilian was a much-needed positive influence in the centre of the park, and as Brighton backed off, he came into his own. He has so much talent when he has time on the ball, and can create chances from midfield well, but he doesn’t put performances like this one in enough.
Indiana Vassilev (67) – 7
Along with Douglas Luiz, Indiana Vassilev made a big impact. The difference having a striker with pace on the field made was huge. He hassled and harried the Brighton defence with his speed, and though he was caught offside twice, his runs in behind gave Dunk and Webster more to think about than El Ghazi’s lame attempts to hold the ball up.
If the deal for Ally Samatta can’t be completed in time for the clash against Watford, Smith should definitely consider giving the 18-year-old a start.
Conor Hourihane (85) – n/a
Other than committing a tactical foul late on, Hourihane didn’t really do much. He touched the ball four times after replacing Nakamba, who seemingly took a knock.
Dean Smith – 6.5
Change was needed from Dean Smith after the awful first half, and he did exactly that. The substitutions he made to bring on Vassilev and Luiz were just right, and the improvement should hopefully give the team confidence going into the Watford match on Tuesday.
Reinforcements at the top end of the pitch are desperately needed still, as if another winger or striker were available, the Villans really could’ve pushed for the win even more. The traditional move of bringing on Hourihane when a goal is needed is proving pretty ineffective.
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