Post by Football News on May 17, 2019 18:40:33 GMT
Aston Villa beat West Brom on penalties to reach Championship play-off final
Aston Villa have a shot at redemption. Twelve months on from their play-off final defeat against Fulham, Villa are back at Wembley and 90 minutes from a return to the Premier League after a long, fraught and draining contest against their West Midlands rivals ended with Dean Smith’s side triumphing on penalties. Tammy Abraham converted the winning kick, after Jed Steer had saved two penalties at the start of the shootout, to spark wild celebrations among the Villa supporters.
The visitors made hard work of it, failing to break down an Albion side who were forced to play for 40 minutes with 10 men, including all of extra time, after Chris Brunt was sent off for two bookable offences. Both fouls were committed on John McGinn – the pair seemed to be embroiled in a long-running battle – and Brunt may well reflect in the days to come that his second challenge was particularly reckless in the circumstances.
The momentum had felt like it was with Albion up until that stage. Craig Dawson’s excellent header, just before the half-hour mark, had levelled the tie on aggregate and there was a point midway through the second half when the home team were feeding off the energy of the raucous home support and playing with increasing belief. Jacob Murphy had a shot cleared off the line during that period and Matt Phillips headed narrowly over. Villa, in contrast, looked a little lost and there was a sense that the game was drifting away from them.
Yet the complexion of the match totally changed when Brunt, the Albion captain, was dismissed for that rather desperate lunge on McGinn, who was about 25 yards from goal at the time and had his feet swept from under him. Chris Kavanagh, the referee, paused for a few seconds before brandishing a second yellow card and from that moment on it was, in effect, a game of attack against defence as Albion retreated and Villa piled on the pressure and tried to find a way through.
The closest they came to scoring was in the final minutes of normal time when Albert Adomah, who was the only Villa player to miss in the shootout, thumped a left-footed shot from no more than 10 yards out that Sam Johnstone, the Albion keeper, instinctively and superbly beat away.
Albion were playing for penalties, totally understandable given their numerical disadvantage, but the problem was that they had nobody left to take them. Phillips, Jay Rodriguez and Stefan Johansen had all been withdrawn – the latter was injured while the other two had run themselves into the ground – and Brunt had been sent off. That meant that Mason Holgate and Ahmed Hegazi had to step forward to take Albion’s first two penalties.
Steer saved them both – and what a story it has turned into for Villa’s goalkeeper. The 26-year-old had planned to spend the season on loan at Charlton Athletic, but was recalled at the end of December after Orjan Nyland suffered a serious achilles injury. Five months later and Steer is a Villa hero. “It’s amazing what can happen and how opportunities can arise in football,” Smith said. “He’s done brilliantly for us.”
The game itself had taken a while to get going and, in truth, the atmosphere in the stands was far more impressive than what was taking place on the pitch. Indeed, the breakthrough came from right out of the blue. The visitors cleared a corner and Holgate hurled another long throw deep into the area. Villa knew what was coming but they were powerless to stop Dawson, who timed his run perfectly, arriving late to meet the ball with a towering header from about eight yards that he guided towards the far corner and in off the post.
As Albion started to get on top in the second half, it was tempting to wonder what a difference it would have made if Dwight Gayle, their top scorer, was leading the line. Gayle was suspended after being sent off in the closing minutes of Saturday’s first leg, and in that respect Albion were their own worst enemies across the two play-off matches, bearing in mind Brunt’s dismissal. “Chris had no qualms with that,” Jimmy Shan, the Albion caretaker manager said, when asked about his captain’s red card.