Aston Villa vs West Brom match report: Tim Sherwood picks up first win after mad moment from Ben Foster

Aston Villa 2 West Brom 1

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The Independent Football

They came running back from the concourses and crowded back into the stands – it had been so long since Aston Villa had won a league game that there was not a home supporter who wanted to miss the moment when Christian Benteke slotted in the 93rd minute penalty that won this match.

It was a hell of a way to win a relegation battle game that Villa had been told they could not afford to lose and when Benteke’s penalty hit the net it was fair to say that the home bench, excitable at the best of times, went wild. Tony Parks, the new goalkeepers coach, picked up Tim Sherwood while in the Holte End they finally remembered what winning felt like.

If Villa do survive in the Premier League this season, and that still remains in considerable doubt, then this last minute win will surely be remembered as the occasion when the club roused itself and decided to fight back.

The first victory in the Premier League since 7 December, the end of a run of seven straight defeats in the league and for Sherwood it was the first win of his new reign. It meant that much more because his team had dominated the first half and taken the lead through Gabby Agbonlahor before then conspiring to throw their lead away.

Reflecting on the result afterwards, Sherwood said that his wife had bought a Euromillions lottery ticket, jackpot £54m, in the morning. “I told her I would rather have three points against West Brom,” Sherwood said. What of his touchline dash after Agbonlahor’s goal. “You can’t plan these things,” he said. “It probably looks ridiculous on the telly.”

It was a Sherwoodian night of high emotion on the touchline: triumph, despair and then finally triumph. Of the suggestions there had been a fight in the tunnel afterwards following a horrendous challenge late in the game by Alan Hutton on Saido Berahino, the Villa manager said, “I didn’t want to punch anyone. I was too busy kissing them.”

This was a fine Villa performance in which they dominated the first half and  should have led by more before Berahino equalised on 66 minutes. But Villa were not to be stopped, and propelled by some excellent performances by the likes of Fabian Delph, Agbonlahor and Hutton they finally broke that unfortunate habit of losing games.

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Gabriel Agbonlahor celebrates opening the scoring for Aston Villa

 

If this was a performance that had been coming after Sherwood’s first two games then only the second defeat of Tony Pulis’ West Brom reign was harder to explain. His team were overrun in the first half and although they came back into it there was a disastrous performance from goalkeeper Ben Foster who conceded the penalty with a lunge at Matt Lowton.

Pulis refused to blame referee Jon Moss who failed to see Hutton plant his studs into Berahino’s thigh in the second half and then scrape them in for good measure. Both were booked in the ensuing melee and that means Hutton cannot be punished retrospectively. They will get to do it all over again on Saturday in the FA Cup quarter-final at Villa Park

Sherwood said there was “no chance” of him resting players for the Cup tie, not that he has much choice with injuries. He wants to get to Wembley and Saturday’s game looks as if it will be just as hard-fought.

It barely needed saying at Villa Park, but if their team had played all season as well as they did in the first half then there would be no question of a relegation battle. They looked a long way from a team that had slipped into the relegation zone before this match.

There were no apologies for going long when the opportunity presented itself and Benteke was always available to head the ball on for the running of Agbonlahor. There were many fine performances in the Villa side, but it was Agbonlahor, relieved of the captaincy by Sherwood, who shone the brightest in the first half.

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Tim Sherwood celebrates after Aston Villa open the scoring against West Brom

 

He had two shots stopped on the line in the first half, as well as his goal. The first was a dreadful fumble by Foster that the West Brom goalkeeper, decidedly dodgy on the night, only just managed to get a hand on to stop rolling over the line. On 28 minutes even two heavy touches from Agbonlahor did not prevent him getting to the ball ahead of Foster and squeezing in a shot which Joleon Lescott cleared off the line.

Before then the goal had come, created by a long clearance from Brad Guzan that Benteke nodded down into the path of Agbonlahor. The Villa man’s strength and acceleration have never been in doubt – it is often more a case of whether he is up for the challenge and he most certainly was on this occasion. He was well ahead of Lescott when he struck a shot under Foster.

It had a transformative effect on the Villa crowd, and Sherwood went halfway down the touchline in celebration. If anything he will have hoped for more goals in the first half. As well as Agbonlahor’s two chances, Delph clipped Foster’s left post in the last minute of the first half. Not only that but the England international picked himself up to make a crucial recovery tackle in midfield just seconds later.

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Saido Berahino celebrates scoring the equaliser for West Brom against Aston Villa

 

It was hard to believe that West Brom would be as poor after the break as they had been before it, and although it took them ten minutes of the second half to find their feet they did at last come into the game. Even so, their equaliser was scarcely what they deserved and yet another galling blow for Villa and this misadventure of a season.

It came from a corner, whipped to the back post by Chris Brunt where Lescott nodded back across goal and Berahino reacted first to head in. That was two headers that Sherwood’s side had lost in the space of a second and it had undone so much of their good work.

 

The warning had been issued when a free-kick needlessly conceded by Jores Okore earlier had been struck in by Brunt from the opposite wing, the left side, and headed just over by Craig Dawson. Okore has the strength and pace to be a decent centre-half but with him alongside Ciaran Clark, Villa are vulnerable to crosses into the centre of Villa’s area.

Villa were wide open on the counter-attack minutes later and James Morrison’s centre for Berahino was only just cut out by Okore. West Brom pushed in the final moments and Sherwood sent on Andreas Weimann for the tiring Agbonlahor before the breakthrough came. It was a clumsy trip by Foster on Lowton. The penalty was dispatched nervelessly by Benteke. Finally it felt like Villa, now out the relegation zone, had a bit of luck. But it was nothing compared to their effort.

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