Albion go into the World Cup break on the back of a first defeat in four after two Danny Ings’ goals earned Aston Villa a hard-earned victory at the Amex.
Roberto De Zerbi’s side led after just 49 seconds through Alexis Mac Allister but Ings, a goalscorer at the Amex in his Southampton days, equalised from the spot before putting Villa ahead 11 minutes into the second half.
It turned into a frustrating afternoon after such a good start but the absence of Kaoru Mitoma through illness and the loss of Adam Lallana after just four minutes were mitigating factors as Albion failed to find the fluency in the final third shown during the wins over Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal.
Albion dominated the closing stages and Levi Colwill had a great chance which he headed over but the equaliser our efforts deserved eluded us.
Illness ruled Adam Webster as well as Mitoma so Colwill came in for his Premier League debut and there was a recall for Danny Welbeck as Albion made two changes to the side which beat Wolves last time out in the Premier League.
Albion got off to the perfect start with a goal inside the first minute. Mac Allister pressed high and won the ball back off Douglas Luiz on the edge of the D and took a few paces before giving Emi Martinez no chance with his right-foot shot.
The hosts suffered a blow in the fourth minute when Lallana had to go off with what looked like a knock to his right knee with Julio Enciso coming on.
Enciso looked lively, winning a couple of free-kicks, before Villa worked their way back into it.
Martinez’s long ball picked out Ings and it needed a well-timed challenge by Lewis Dunk to prevent the Villa striker making contact inside the box.
Pervis Estupinan made a timely clearance to prevent John McGinn from tapping Ings’ cross in but Villa levelled in the 18th minute. Emi Buendia’s lovely pass between Colwill and Dunk sent McGinn away and he went down under Dunk’s challenge. It was the third penalty Albion’s captain has conceded in our last four games and although Rob Sanchez got a hand to the ball, Ings’ strike down the middle had too much power and it was 1-1.
Albion responded positively. Sanchez sent a clearance downfield that gave Leo Trossard a chance before Martinez reacted smartly at his near post to keep out Solly March’s in-swinging corner from the left.
At the other end Dunk made a terrific block to make sure Jacob Ramsey’s effort deflected over the target but Albion finished what had been an open and entertaining half strongly, winning a flurry of corners in stoppage time which Villa managed to keep out.
Trossard had the ball in the net from a spectacular volley early in the second half but referee Kavanagh had already signaled a foul by the Belgian and it was the visitors who grabbed the initiative in the 54th minute.
Buendia hit the post with a header from Matt Cash’s cross and Albion seemed to have averted the danger. But Mac Allister was robbed by Luiz in the D as he tried to play out and Ings was in. His shot took a deflection off Colwill and crept inside the left-hand post.
From an Albion perspective it was a poor goal to concede and De Zerbi responded by bringing on Joel Veltman and Deniz Undav with Veltman at right back allowing Pascal Gross to play further forward.
Tyrone Mings made a crucial intervention to prevent Undav from turning in Estupinan’s cross then March took a bad knock to his ankle when Lucas Digne cleared his lines. A VAR check confirmed no penalty but March and Albion players close by were convinced he had a strong case.
Villa hadn’t won any of their previous eight away games and it was clear 20 minutes out that they were settling for what they had. Could Albion find a way through?
Martinez plunged to his right in the 80th minute to save Trossard’s drive from inside the D before Dunk was denied by a defender’s block when he volleyed Trossard’s left-wing cross goalwards.
Seven Villa players and De Zerbi were booked and the Italian was left frustrated in 87th minute when Colwill rose to meet Mac Allister’s deep cross but his free header didn’t test Martinez.
Eight additional minutes were shown and Albion roused themselves for one last effort but there was no way through and Albion will go into the World Cup break seventh in the table.
Albion: Sanchez, Gross, Dunk, Colwill, Estupinan (Lamptey 80), Caicedo, Mac Allister, March, Lallana (Enciso 4 (Veltman 58)), Trossard, Welbeck (Undav 58).
Subs: Steele, Gilmour, Ferguson, van Hecke, Turns.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh