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Nick Szczepanik's press verdict: Aston Villa

It remains to be seen whether Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa will prove to be a valuable point gained, keeping the Villains three points behind Graham Potter’s in the fight to stay up – or two points dropped as Albion aim to reach the quieter waters of mid-table.

By Nick Szczepanik • 19 January 2020

By Patrick Sullivan
Nick Szczepanik delivers the media's verdict on Saturday's game.

But one thing is for sure – it was almost inevitable that one particular player would score for the visitors if anyone did. As the Sunday Times said, “Brighton and Hove Albion must be sick of the sight of Jack Grealish. The Aston Villa captain has now scored against them in each of the past four meetings between the clubs, including the last-minute equaliser that denied the Seagulls the Championship title in 2017.

“And that only makes it harder to understand why they left him alone in space within sight of their goal to equalise 15 minutes from the end of a tight relegation tussle.

“The result leaves the lower half of the table looking very much as it did, but Brighton had hoped that a run of four matches against teams below them in the table – this was the first – would allow them to move clear of any trouble. However, they will need to do better than this against Bournemouth, whom they play on Tuesday, West Ham and Watford.”

The Sunday Telegraph admitted that “the visitors made little impression until the 38th minute, when Grealish broke away in midfield and bore down on goal only to shoot past the far post. Seconds later, Maupay was charging at the Villa defence and allowed to run until Trossard was in position to receive his pass and drive a low left-foot shot across Reina and just inside the post.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Davy Propper in action.

But The Daily Telegraph also described the equaliser as “the cardinal footballing sin of leaving the opposition’s best player unmarked in front of goal. Albion allowed Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish the freedom of the Amex Stadium to take a crossfield pass 15 minutes from time and smack the equaliser past Maty Ryan.

“In truth, neither team deserved to win a poor game, but Brighton will be kicking themselves after failing such an elementary test of defending.

“'We made a positional error and Jack Grealish punished us,’ Brighton head coach Graham Potter said. ‘With some players you can get away with it but not Grealish. We will dust ourselves down, take the point and prepare to play against Bournemouth’.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Bernardo challenges Frederic Guilbert for the ball.

Kieran Gill of the Mail on Sunday had a novel suggestion about Grealish’s motivation for scoring yet another goal against Albion (perhaps because Kieran used to sport a Grealish hairdo himself).

He wrote: “With a swing of his left boot, Villa avoided a seventh defeat in nine games against a relegation rival. 'We're running out of superlatives for him,' said his manager.

“True, but let's say it again anyway.

“Grealish is a wonderful player to watch, the conductor of his club at age 24 and anything short of an English call-up come March would be a travesty."

By Paul Hazlewood
Neal Maupay challenges Danny Drinkwater.

Maupay could have snatched a late winner for Albion, but was denied by new Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina, as Tom Barclay pointed out in the Sun on Sunday. He wrote: “Pepe Reina proved he can still save the day.

“The 37-year-old, loaned this week by Aston Villa after Tom Heaton’s season-ending knee injury, was making his first Premier League appearance in almost seven years.

“And the ex-Liverpool stopper showed he remains up to Prem standard with a flying stop to deny Neal Maupay in the dying moments.”

The upshot, though, was yet another frustrating stalemate, as Paul Doyle said in The Observer. “Brighton, meanwhile, were left to reflect on another match in which they were superior in spells but failed to profit,” he wrote.

“They remain just three points ahead of Villa and at risk of replacing them in the relegation zone if they do not find a way of translating periods of promising play into regular rewards. ‘You can’t just win by playing well, you have to be able to suffer,’ said Graham Potter.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Steven Alzate challenges Matt Targett.

Thomas Mallows agreed on the BBC website. “Maupay and Aaron Connolly formed a hard-working strike partnership and they hassled and harried the Villa defence all afternoon, but without really testing Reina until the closing stages.

“That lack of cutting edge cost them, with Grealish's late equaliser meaning Brighton have now dropped 14 points from [winning] positions in the Premier League this season.

“Graham Potter has been praised for the way he has developed Brighton's playing style, but he needs a greater attacking threat from his side in those matches if they are to pull themselves away from danger.”

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