Last night saw the return of Aston Villa to the Amex Stadium to face Brighton. Following our victory at Villa Park against Arsenal, fans were hoping to see the club begin a winning run and make up for the November loss in the reverse Brighton fixture. Three points would have seen Villa firmly cemented in the European spots, but sadly that dream was put on hold as we came away with just a point.
There was much speculation around the starting XI after recent games have shown weakness within our midfield. Marvellous Nakamba is a player recently called upon and has proven his defensive worth but was dropped last night to reintroduce a rested Douglas Luiz. Smith played his trusted Luiz, McGinn, and Barkley trio, unsurprisingly to most. There were hopes from some, me included, that Nakamba would be rewarded for his good form or perhaps Sanson would make his first full debut, but the manager went with what he knows best.
Viewers were soon to discover that the midfield would not be taking all the blame for last night’s performance, but instead the team looked unenthused and flat. The opening 10 minutes saw a succession of Brighton corners and a couple of poor attempts at goal; luckily for us their ongoing struggle to convert chances continued. Villa were awfully slow to start, which is not unfamiliar, but what fans are not used to seeing is remaining in first gear for the entirety of the match.
Villa were lucky to make it through to half-time without conceding a goal, credit to Emi Martinez who was on fantastic form. We became somewhat stuck in a cycle of Brighton attacks, so it was a relief when that whistle finally came. A team talk and possibly a change was very much needed.
The opening of the second half saw our first shot on target, an attempt with little power by Ross Barkley. This inspired a small amount of hope that Villa were about to wake up for the second 45 minutes.
In the 61st minute, we were struck with the blow of Matty Cash being substituted due to injury. Ahmed Elmohamady replaced him, looking a little rusty in terms of passing, but soon settling into the game.
The attempts from Brighton continued to test us but remained unsuccessful. We were hanging onto a point, mostly due to Martinez’s personal record number of saves (9) and Douglas Luiz breaking up play. Smith surprised us all by making two changes before the 80-minute mark, first swapping Traore for Trezeguet and later Barkley for Sanson.
Both looked motivated on the pitch, with Sanson adding energy into a lifeless Aston Villa side. With Jack Grealish kept quiet through double marking, the same tactic West Ham utilised, changing up that midfield could be the unpredictable response needed to keep opposing teams on their toes.
For the game to end as a goalless draw, we can be disappointed with the result. More worryingly, we can be disappointed with the overall team performance. We have Martinez almost entirely to thank for the point, with Tyrone Mings and the back line offering some decent support. Another clean sheet is always a positive, but with 26 shots against us and only 4 at the other end, last night was one to forget for Aston Villa.
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