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Nick Szczepanik's press verdict: Aston Villa

Media men with their verdict on Albion's hard-fought win at Villa Park

By Nick Szczepanik • 22 November 2020

By Paul Hazlewood
Danny Welbeck threatens in the second half at Villa Park.

Regular readers of this column would not be at all surprised to find most reports of Albion’s 2-1 victory at Villa following a predictable pattern – intros leading on yet another VAR controversy (even if it did not seem very controversial to us) and Midlands-based writers concentrating on the home team rather than Graham Potter’s men.

True to form, one or two of those reports went as expected. But others gave full credit to Albion’s performance in what was no doubt an entertaining contest for the neutral, however nail-biting the finale for anyone from Sussex.

Paul Rowan did the occasion justice in the Sunday Times. “This was a fiery cocktail of a game with a VAR twist at the end, but it brought a surprise outcome thanks to two splendid goals from Brighton & Hove Albion,” he wrote.

“The away side took the lead through Danny Welbeck’s early goal and, after they were pegged back by Ezri Konsa’s equaliser, Solly March put them ahead. Then VAR muscled in on the action in stoppage time.

“The first half passed in a blur of exciting football and multiple chances, all but one of which were missed. The home side were the aggressors, but it was Brighton who had the guile, or at least one of their number did, Danny Welbeck. Five days short of his 30th birthday, Welbeck has scored more times at Villa Park than most Villa players and in the 10th minute he added a little gem to his collection.

“As Villa tried to impose a high press which involved all ten players in the opposition half, Neal Maupay held up a clearance well and fed the ball to Adam Lallana whose quick ball over the top sent Welbeck on a long run towards the goal. He coolly waited for Emiliano Martinez to commit himself before chipping the Villa keeper.

20:44

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Extended PL Highlights: Aston Villa 1 Albion 2

“Tariq Lamptey then seized on John McGinn’s pass to set up Welbeck, who this time fluffed his lines, while Villa at the other end appeared to want to puncture the net as they were guilty of showing a lack of composure in front of goal, despite dominating possession.”

Sean Taylor of the Press Association, writing for The Independent, took up the story: “Villa should have quickly equalised but Adam Webster denied Trezeguet with a heroic goal-line clearance before the Egyptian then somehow blazed the rebound over the crossbar from seven yards out.

“Martinez was out quickly to thwart Neal Maupay when he was put through on goal by Welbeck as Brighton looked to extend their lead.

“Villa finished the first half strongly. Maty Ryan made an unorthodox save on his goal-line to kick away a header from Tyrone Mings, before Ben White made a goal-saving block to deny Ollie Watkins.

“The hosts maintained their momentum after the break and were deservedly level at the start of the second half. Traore put a brilliant ball into the box from a free-kick and Konsa, timing his run to perfection, slid in to turn the ball home with an outstretched foot.

“The game had become end to end and Brighton restored their advantage after 56 minutes. Gross switched play to the left flank, picking out March with a raking pass. March then curled a fine shot beyond Martinez and into the far corner of the net.”

01:13

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March on winning goal and penalty decision

Joe Bernstein wrote in the Mail on Sunday that “the win was Brighton's first at Villa Park with former England international Danny Welbeck scoring the opening goal and overshadowing man-of-the-moment Jack Grealish.

“'Danny was fantastic. It's clear he influenced the game and took his goal well,' said Potter who snapped up Welbeck on a free after he'd been released from Watford.

“The only cloud for Brighton was the dismissal of Tariq Lamptey in injury-time. He will now miss next week's clash against Liverpool after a foul on Grealish near the end.” 

But the wing-back’s red card was not the end of the drama, which had some reporters almost frothing at the mouth. The Daily Star wrote that “Dean Smith watched on is disbelief as Michael Oliver changed his mind following VAR advice after originally judging that Solly March had taken down Trezeguet inside the area.

“With the score standing at 2-1 to the away side at Villa Park, the ref went to the monitor and quickly decided that March had got enough on the ball before the contact with his opponent.

“Gary Lineker is one of many who have since questioned that judgement, with the former England striker suggesting that it was of the most blatant penalties in recent memory.

“He said: "Crikey. That’s a penalty most weeks. May have flicked the ball but definitely not a clear and obvious error.”

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Welbeck: Plenty more to come

Jordan Davies of The Sun took an even stronger line. He wrote that “Aston Villa were denied a stonewall injury time penalty by VAR as Brighton claimed a historic and dramatic win.

“A late sending off for Tariq Lamptey was then followed by Michael Oliver awarding Villa a penalty after March’s challenge on Trezeguet.

“But after VAR asked Oliver to carry out an on-field check on the monitor, he strangely decided to revert his original decision because of a slight touch on the ball by March.

“A disappointing afternoon began in the opening minute as Ross Barkley was forced off with a hamstring injury after attempting to take a free-kick, with Bertrand Traore replacing him.”

Not disappointing for everyone, Jordan, although you suspect that John Percy, the Sunday Telegraph’s Midlands man, might have been peering at the proceedings through the same claret and blue kaleidoscope. He began his report: “In this most chaotic and capricious of Premier League seasons, is there a more unpredictable team than Aston Villa?”

Some might say that there is, John - and Paul Doyle of the Observer, who has seen a lot of the Albion in recent seasons, appreciated the irony of the Seagulls converting a better share of their chances than Villa were able to.

“Since thrashing Liverpool 7-2 at Villa Park in October, Dean Smith’s men have won at Leicester and Arsenal but lost all three of their home matches, including this rollicking duel with a smart, tenacious Brighton side who – and this is rare – proved to be more efficient than their opponents,” he wrote.

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Potter: An important win

“This was the sort of harum-scarum and feisty affair that would have had Villa Park heaving if fans had been present. Both sides could have struck at least three goals in the first half alone. Although Villa spent much of the game on the front foot, Brighton looked capable of scoring whenever they advanced.”

Stephen Shemilt of the BBC website also appreciated the entertainment on offer. “This was made so enjoyable by a relentless back and forth, a consequence of contrasting styles. Whereas Villa pressed high, Brighton sat back, looking to break with pace and exploit an occasionally shaky home defence.

“Welbeck's pace made Brighton's first goal, yet he was outshone by the electric Lamptey, who was a constant nuisance down the Seagulls' right. In the end, Brighton were simply more clinical, with Villa's threat diminishing after they went behind for the second time.

“Brighton had managed only three goals in their previous four league matches, but despite often having to gather men behind the ball, they kept their attacking threat through Welbeck and his strike partner Neal Maupay. Nine minutes after the Villa equaliser, Pascal Gross rolled the ball across the face of the 18-yard box for March to add the delicious finish.

"’Our second was a really good team goal and a great finish by Solly March,’ said Brighton manager Graham Potter. ‘I'm pleased for him because he influences games. We've had a few penalties against us this season so I'm not sure what is and what isn't a penalty these days. I know Solly touched the ball so we're just happy it went our way this time’."

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