Subs spark comeback
West Brom looked set for all three points at the Hawthorns courtesy of Shane Long's early brace but Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert turned the game on its head with a triple substitution to earn a point. Adam Bate looks at how the changes proved crucial to the Villa comeback...
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal. Last Updated: 26/11/13 9:08am
Aston Villa came back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw at West Brom on the Monday Night Football. Shane Long scored a marvellous opener in the third minute and doubled the lead shortly afterwards as Villa were completely overwhelmed by the pace of the Republic of Ireland international early on.
But a triple substitution from Villa boss Paul Lambert turned the game around with Karim El Ahmadi and Ashley Westwood rescuing a point for the visitors. Here we use Opta data to look at how Albion dominated the early stages before Villa transformed the game by changing their shape after the break...
West Brom v Aston Villa starting formations
Steve Clarke made just one change to the team that drew at Chelsea with Goran Popov replacing Liam Ridgewell at left-back. Chris Brunt and Morgan Amalfitano provided the width with Stephane Sessegnon supporting Long in attack.
Lambert named an unchanged side from the one that won 2-0 at home to Cardiff last time out and that meant Libor Kozak pairing Christian Benteke in attack with Aleksandar Tonev playing in support. Westwood, El Ahmadi and Yacouba Sylla formed the midfield trio.
Long beat the Villa defence twice with Brunt (11) providing a fine assist for the opener
Story of the match
Long starred for Albion
Long was in stunning form in the early stages, delivering the sort of performance that must leave supporters wondering how he had scored just three goals in his previous 22 appearances for the club. The opener, in particular, showcased impeccable control of a long ball over the top, a perfect second touch to steady himself and a composed finish past Brad Guzan with his weaker left foot.
The long-range pass had come from the rather more celebrated left boot of Brunt. The Northern Ireland international had been the subject of groans from Baggies supporters earlier in the season but his assist tally continues to rise. In fact, only six players have set up more Premier League goals than Brunt since 2009. Given that those players represent Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, it provides an indication of how inventive the 28-year-old has been for West Brom.
|Premier League Assists since August 2009|
|Robin van Persie||27|
While Long's first effort was brilliant, Villa were certainly complicit in his second goal that came just after the 10-minute mark. Again, the finish was supreme but Leandro Bacuna's square pass across his own back-line was sloppy stuff with the error compounded by how high up the field the Villa full-backs seemed intent on playing.
"Twenty years ago this would never have happened," said Gary Neville in the Sky Sports studio. "The left-back Ciaran Clark has left Nathan Baker one-on-one. The Premier League is trying to become more technical and that's all well and good but you're going to see mistakes along the way because the two full-backs are so split and high."
Villa played with wide full-backs in the opening stages and Kozak (27) ahead of Benteke (20)
Lambert praises team
That was shown by Villa's average position stats in a miserable first half that could have seen Sessegnon make it three. "Look how high up the field Bacuna is and he's left his centre-backs exposed," said Jamie Carragher when examining the data. But the withdrawn position of Benteke was arguably even more significant as he left the advanced striker role to Kozak. "Maybe that's what Paul Lambert wants but I think he needs to be high up the pitch and get on the shoulder," added Neville.
Although the duo combined well for Kozak to skim the crossbar with a half-volley midway through the first half, the Czech striker only passed once to Benteke before the break. The powerful Belgian was frequently bypassed in his deeper role and without pace around him he looked a different player. "Villa have lost a bit of their counter-attacking threat without Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor," said Neville.
Villa went to a 3-4-3 / 5-2-3 shape following their triple sub with players getting close to Benteke
"Going three at the back put Clark at left centre-back where he is more comfortable and it put Bacuna at right wing-back where he is more comfortable."
Jamie Carragher Quotes of the week
Then came the changes that so transformed Villa. Weimann, Agbonlahor and Delph replaced Kozak, Tonev and Sylla as Lambert changed the team's shape to a loose 3-4-3 formation. "Going three at the back put Clark at left centre-back where he is more comfortable and it put Bacuna at right wing-back where he is more comfortable," explained Carragher. "It was important because the full-backs had been all over the place in the first half."
Kozak had failed to win a single aerial duel in his 57 minutes on the pitch but with Benteke as the point man in attack and Villa deliberately going longer than ever - as Ron Vlaar revealed in his post-match interview - the visitors had more joy. Benteke engaged in 23 aerial duels in the match, winning 11 of them and with the energetic Weimann and Agbonlahor focused on getting close to him rather than providing width, Albion's defence struggled.
|West Brom v Aston Villa - Aerial Duels|
|Christian Benteke||Aston Villa||23|
|Gareth McAuley||West Brom||12|
|Jonas Olsson||West Brom||9|
|Shane Long||West Brom||9|
|Nathan Baker||Aston Villa||5|
Weimann went close soon after coming on, before Delph skewed a shot wide. Then came the breakthrough goal as Bacuna's advanced position on the right paid off - his cross finding Weimann before sitting up nicely for the unmarked El Ahmadi to divert past Boaz Myhill. The goal added to Villa's growing confidence and the equaliser came as little surprise.
Clarke rues misses
Westwood had played his part in the opener but his role in Villa's second was more obvious - a fine drilled effort from outside box. "Westwood was deeper in the first half but he pushed himself a lot further forward in the second half," said Neville. "Those four - him, Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor - were the key to the game. They were the driving force behind it. The front three, in particular, were the catalyst because they were a real handful for West Brom. They occupied the defenders."
Albion rallied to stem the tide and finished the stronger but their tally of one shot on target after the interval told its own story and they could not restore their lead. Given the context of the game, the point should be seen as a triumph for Lambert. Villa have taken more points from losing positions than any other team this season (7) and that reflects Lambert's proactive approach. Finding the right balance to start games stronger is the task that faces him now.
"When you're leading comfortably midway through the second half, you feel as though you should get the points. But Villa made a few changes and the energy of the substitutes seemed to unsettle us a little bit. We gave away a bad goal and that gave them some momentum in the game. They took advantage of it. We missed a clear chance to make it 3-0 and if that goal goes in then I think it's over. I actually thought we did well to wrestle control back off them at 2-2."
"I thought we were terrific in the second half. We spoke about making the changes at half-time and we knew we had to do something pretty quickly. We were actually going to leave it a bit longer but we needed a goal. The substitutes made a huge contribution and I thought they were outstanding. They've been big players, all three of them and to come back in a derby game in this atmosphere, I have nothing but praise for all of them."
"You very rarely see three substitutions being made all at once but Paul Lambert's substitutions, along with the change of system too, brought about a huge momentum change in the game. He was still a bit respectful though because I feel he could have done it at half-time. Of course, he could have lost one or two of those players to injury through rushing them back early but he took the risk and it has paid off for him."
Although Villa's second-half performance to gain a share of the points will have taken some of the gloss off his performance, the man of the match champagne still went to Long for his magnificent early brace. "He was the player of the match even though Villa finished it strongly," said Neville. "He deserved to be on the winning side really."
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Barclays Premier League
|10||West Ham United||28||31|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||28||25|