Aston Villa scored twice to complete a comeback and seal victory in their play-off first leg against West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park.
In a week of extraordinary comebacks, Villa produced one of their own with late goals coming from Conor Hourihane and Tammy Abraham from the spot. A second yellow card dismissed Baggies forward, Dwight Gayle. As a result, he’ll miss at least the reverse leg as part of a two-match ban.
Jack Grealish, Tyrone Mings and Abraham all returned to the starting line-up after being rested against Norwich. Dean Smith opted for Glenn Whelan over Hourihane.
Defensive Game plan
For an hour, Jimmy Shan’s game plan worked a treat. Albion nullified Villa’s potent attacking threat with a 5-4-1 formation used to frustrate Villa Park. The away side took the lead within twenty minutes when Whelan made a mistake.
As Grealish passed towards his midfield partner, Whelan misjudged the ball and with Gayle latching onto his miss-lapse, neither Tyrone Mings or Axel Tuanzebe could deny him a shot on goal. He fired past Jed Steer.
Albion struggled to threaten the home goal for large parts of the first and second period. Though Jed Steer notably tipped Jay Rodriguez’s effort onto the crossbar in the early exchanges – a world class save. 70 minutes later, Villa finally got the all-important leveller.
Hourihane replaced Whelan in the middle of the park and made an instant impact. With Grealish opening space for the Irishman on the edge of the box. He pulled the ball back to assist Hourihane as he found the top left corner from distance. Albion keeper, Sam Johnstone was routed to his spot, incapable of preventing his ninth goal of the campaign.
Three minutes later, Grealish was involved again. On this occasion winning a penalty as Kieran Gibbs’ rash challenge was punished. As the Holte End sang his name, Abraham calmly slotted towards the right-hand corner to put Villa in control of the game.
2-1 to Villa at half-time in the tie. The Hawthorns beckons on Tuesday night as Villa and Albion look to do battle again. A place at Wembley awaits the winners.