Deniz enjoys another away day but Albion lose finale

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Undav scored for the third successive away game but Albion are beaten 2-1 at Villa Park.

By Bruce Talbot • 28 May 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
Deniz Undav, who'd just had a goal disallowed, makes it 2-1.

Albion couldn’t quite finish a season to remember with a victory but they certainly made sure Aston Villa’s progress into the Europa Conference League was far from straightforward.

The hosts led 2-0 midway through the first half thanks to goals from Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins and it looked like being a comfortable afternoon for them.

But Deniz Undav, who had already been denied a goal for offside, scored in his third successive away game and fifth in the last eight before the break.

It made for a nervous second half around Villa Park and Alexis Mac Allister was a whisker away from equalising with a volley from just inside the box. Villa held on and finish seventh, a place below Albion. 

By Paul Hazlewood
Alexis Mac Allister volleys just wide in the second half.

Roberto De Zerbi made five changes to the team that had secured Europa League football on Wednesday with the 1-1 draw against Manchester City.

Yasin Ayari came in for his Premier League debut while Joel Veltman, Adam Webster, Evan Ferguson and Undav returned to the starting XI. Skipper Pascal Gross started at left-back.

It meant an outfield with an average age of 23.4 including four teenagers  - only Middlesbrough against Fulham in 2006 started more teenagers in a single Premier League game.

There was a febrile atmosphere at kick off and Villa fans nearly had the start they craved when Albion failed to deal with Jacob Ramsey’s left-wing cross and Leon Bailey swivelled to beat Steele with a right-foot shot which came back off the bar.

By Paul Hazlewood
Evan Ferguson went close with this first-half shot.

The reprieve was short lived as Villa went in front on seven minutes. Ramsey was the creator again with a low pass which found Luiz unmarked 15 yards out and his right-foot shot sped past Jason Steele.

There was nearly an immediate response. Mac Allister slid a pass between Villa’s central defenders and Evan Ferguson had time to take a touch and look up but his effort rose well over Emi Martinez’s goal.

“We’re all going on a European tour” rang out from all four sides of Villa Park, including 3000 Albion fans in ‘RDZ Blue and White Army’ t-shirts and they thought there was an equaliser to celebrate in the 20th minute when Undav eased between Tyrone Mings and Martinez to stab Julio Enciso’s cross home but Enciso had strayed just offside.

Six minutes later, though, it was 2-0. John McGinn won the ball off Mac Allister – unfairly Albion complained – and sent Ramsey away down the left. He unselfishly squared the ball to Watkins who had a tap-in.

By Paul Hazlewood
Julio Enciso goes past Leon Bailey.

Albion continued to create chances though. Ferguson beat the offside trap but stabbed the ball wide. The impressive Undav then broke clear of Villa’s high defensive line but when he squared it to Ferguson the striker was dispossessed and Undav’s strike from the loose ball was cleared off the line by Matty Cash.

Albion finally got the goal they deserved on 39 minutes. Mac Allister hoisted a free kick from just inside the Villa half and Undav reacted quickest to volley past Martinez. He nearly scored again before the break when Enciso played him in but Martinez spread himself to make a crucial save. Villa needed half-time more than Albion despite the scoreline.

Albion brought on Moises Caicedo and Pervis Estupinan at the break and the mood among the home fans had changed. Nervousness had replaced expectation, especially when news that Spurs were in control against Leeds filtered through and Mac Allister nearly equalised on 55 minutes with a volley that beat his fellow World Cup winner Martinez and shaved the left-hand post.

By Paul Hazlewood
In their RDZ t-shirts, the 3000 Albion fans made it a colourful away end.

Ramsey had a chance for Villa but put Bailey’s cross over the bar from close range but Villa didn’t know whether to try and protect their lead or push for a third. Albion began to dominate possession and added Kaoru Mitoma to the mix in the 64th minute with Jan Paul van Hecke also coming on.

The game got increasingly scrappy with countless fouls and stoppages. That suited Villa but with Mitoma a live threat down the left there was still the feeling Albion could get a second and completely puncture the mood. Jack Hinshelwood made his Premier League debut late on, a proud moment for him and his storied Albion family.

Villa wasted three chances from free-kicks to ease the tension with Lucas Digne curling his effort narrowly wide and Albion couldn’t create another clear-cut chance. Villa will join us in Europe.

By Paul Hazlewood
Albion fans wearing their RDZ Blue and White Army t-shirts.

At the final whistle a blue corner of Birmingham stood to applaud the players at the end of an unfortgettable season - and the players reciprocated the gesture. Only 76 days until the new one starts with the promise of a European tour as well. Can’t wait!

Albion: Steele, Veltman (Estupinan 45), Webster (van Hecke 65), Colwill, Buonanotte, Gross, Mac Allister, Ayari (Caicedo 45), Enciso (Mitoma 65), Ferguson, Undav (Hinshelwood 89).

Subs not used: McGill, Dunk, Welbeck, Gilmour.

Referee: David Coote