Match: Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion
Date: Saturday 11th May 2019
Competition: Play-Off semi-final, first leg
Venue: Villa Park
Hourihane 75, Abraham (pen) 79
Steer; Elmohamady, Tuanzebe, Mings, Taylor; McGinn, Whelan (Green 67), Grealish; Adomah (Hourihane 67), Abraham, El Ghazi (Kodjia 90). Unused subs: Kalinic, Jedinak, Davis, Hause.
Story in brief
Aston Villa scored twice in four minutes for a dramatic win which gives them the upper hand over neighbours Albion in the Championship Play-Off semi-final.
Dean Smith’s side seemed to be heading for defeat after trailing to a Dwight Gayle strike with just 15 minutes remaining.
But sub Conor Hourihane produced a superb equaliser before Tammy Abraham converted a penalty to claim his 26th goal of the season and send Villa into next Tuesday’s return match with a slender lead.
A bright opening by Villa saw Glenn Whelan send a third-minute header not far over following Jack Grealish’s short corner and John McGinn’s cross, while Abraham was only just too high with a spectacular overhead kick from Ahmed Elmohamady’s right-wing cross.
But home supporters were stunned into silence in the 16th minute when a mix-up at the back enabled Gayle to surge forward and send an unstoppable left-foot drive past Jed Steer.
The goal took the sting out of the home side, who were restricted to just a couple more shots before half-time, former Villa keeper Sam Johnstone saving comfortably from Anwar El Ghazi and Tyrone Mings.
The frustration continued after the interval as Whelan’s fierce shot was blocked in a crowded penalty area and Abraham sent a glancing header wide.
But just when another attack seemed to be going nowhere, Grealish’s intelligent square pass enabled Hourihane to unleash a magnificent rising shot from just outside the area – and four minutes later Abraham put Villa ahead when he sent Johnstone the wrong way from the penalty spot after Grealish had been upended by Kieran Gibbs.
Albion were reduced to 10 men in the 87th minute when Gayle, who had already been booked, was given a second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Steer as the keeper collected a cross.
Reason to believe
Villa’s first-leg victory was down to one crucial element – self-belief.
The boys in claret and blue struggled to get into the usual rhythm for periods, failing to reproduce the flowing football which carried them from the bottom half of the table to the Play-Offs.
But they simply refused to throw in the towel against a well-organised Baggies outfit who defended in depth.
They were ultimately rewarded by two goals which give them a “half-time” advantage in the quest for a place at Wembley.
The teams reconvene at The Hawthorns on Tuesday to determine who will be heading to Wembley for the Play-Off final on Monday 27th May.
The winners will face either Leeds United or Derby County in the showpiece.