Attendance: 34 489
As Derby days go, this was a fluid affair with Villa having most of the possession over an excellent Baggies side who played exceptionally well on the break. However, Villa once again failed to convert their new found love of the ball into goals and had to rely on record signing Darren Bent to rescue a point late on.
Lambert’s policy of creating competition seems to be having a driving effect. Darren Bent found himself on the bench, along with Bannan and Lichaj. Bennett had his first league start, with Delph continuing where he left off against Manchester City and speed merchant Agbonlahor partnering new addition Benteke up front. All looked to express.
It was Albion hitman, Long, who began the hunt for goals. Having been presented with an easy far post header, six yards out from goal, he saved Villa blushes by softly directing a tame effort just wide of the post. Villa’s packed midfield responded with drive and determination, crafting a good chance with a nice wide ball played into the centre for the wasteful Benteke who was not able to get between Olsson and McAuley to stab it home.
Villa soon began to dominate. At the heart of the this, the enigmatic dynamo that is Brett Holman. The Australian has fast become the heartbeat and fire of Lambert’s Villa side, setting the physical standard of what is required. He responded to criticism’s that he perhaps lacked craft by fashioning two guilt edge opportunities for himself. The first was a bending strike from 20 yards out that had Ben Foster arcing backwards to tip the ball over. The second came from a winding run into the box which had Albion defenders scrambling. Holman’s eventual low drive took a slight deflection, forcing Foster into an excellent one handed save.
Benteke also had chances though his accuracy and decision making left him ruing lost opportunities. Having pinched the ball off Billy Jones, Benteke ran toward goal, dithered, perhaps taking a touch too many, before releasing a curling shot that went over the bar when a clear chance had presented itself to play in Holman.
It was the Baggies though that took the lead midway through the second half. James Morrison, who was superb for Albion, broke down the right. Vlaar was unable to clear his cross, knocking it against the prowling Long who converted easily to take the visitors in the lead in the 59th minute.
Some word perhaps about the Referee Mr. Taylor. Playing Villa striker Agbonlahor, meant that Albion were perhaps forced to play deeper than they would have liked. However, Agbonlahor struggled to break from his man marker McAuley, who seemed to have developed an in-game fetish for the Villa strikers shirt, constantly holding on to Agbonlahor and his kit. Few fouls were given in Villa’s direction, with Agbonlahor struggling to impose himself on the game as a result.
In the end, despite much huff and puff and neat play no equaliser came. Lambert shuffled, bringing on Darren Bent for the ineffectual Benteke. It didn’t take long for the England and Villa striker to get Villa back on track. Bent took advantage of a goal mouth scramble, finding the two yards of space needed to connect with the loose ball, sending it back across goal and into Foster’s net. Bent looked sharp from the moment he came on, narrowly missing a chance a to put Villa into the lead when he met the ball on the edge of the box, only to fire narrowly over, only a few minutes after scoring. Undoubtedly, being benched had the desired effect on a player who came on to remind the manager of what he can bring to this young Villa team.
Albion themselves could have taken the lead close to full time when substitute Lukaku, burst toward the box, his shot looping off Clark, beating Guzan, only to then shave the outside of the post.
All in all a good powerful, performance from a hungry, dynamic Villa side who perhaps still need to master the art of incisiveness in front of goal.
Room for improvement: Benteke