In this strangest season, Aston Villa is the most entertaining puzzle in the Premier League, while VAR remains the most contentious. Since beating Liverpool 7-2 at Villa Park in October, Dean Smith’s men have beaten Leicester and Arsenal but lost all three of their home games, including this fun duel with a clever, tenacious and slightly lucky Brighton who, and this one is rare – he proved to be more efficient than his opponents.
After goals from Danny Welbeck and Solly March on either side of one from Ezri Konsa, Brighton benefited in injury time from a surprising reversal of a penalty decision, and Michael Oliver decided to overturn his own decision after going to the field screen to review a March entry on Trezeguet. That came moments after the brilliant Tariq Lamptey was harshly sent off for two infractions deemed reservable.
This was the kind of arum-scarum and fight that Villa Park would have had in an uproar if the fans had been around. Those who support the home team would have spent most of the game wondering how their team wasn’t up front while they were thankful they weren’t the father behind. Both teams could and should have scored at least three goals in the first half alone. As it became known, the visitors only led 1-0 at halftime thanks to a skillful combination between two players who are often considered to have been past their prime.
In the 12th minute Adam Lallana, with a sweet pivot and pass in the center of the field, released Welbeck, who ran from the midline before cutting the ball on Emi Martínez, his former Arsenal teammate, in Villa’s goal. It was alarming how easily Villa’s top defense had been caught by a single pass and what followed revived memories of their last match here, when Southampton scored with virtually every attack en route to the 4-3 victory. . Although Villa spent most of the game on his front foot, Brighton also seemed capable of scoring every time they advanced.
Lamptey wreaked havoc from his right-back position and displayed an admirable presence of mind in the 22nd minute to take advantage of a loose pass from John McGinn and offer Welbeck a chance to make it 2-0. But a bad touch from the forward saved Villa.
Villa, whose problems started in the second minute when Ross Barkley stopped with a hamstring problem that led to him being replaced, might have been level by then, but Trezeguet had a shot from close range blocked at the line by Adam Webster then threw the rebound wide. Barkley’s replacement, Bertrand Traoré, forced a dive from Mat Ryan with a shot from the edge of the area. Moments later, Martinez shot out of his box to thwart Maupay after a nice pass from Welbeck.
Lamptey scored a good cross pass in March in the half hour and then took Lallana close to the penalty spot, but Lallana was unable to find the target with his shot. Villa is generally powerful from set pieces, but he didn’t threaten from any set pieces until Tyrone Mings approached from a corner, forcing Ryan to improvise a kick from the line. Moments later Ben White came to the visitors ‘rescue, charging back to clear the ball off Watkins’ foot just as the forward looked sure to convert a Grealish cross to the net after a quick counterattack from Villa. Grealish had switched flanks by then, possibly to escape Lamptey’s attention.
Brighton finally relented just after the break, when Konsa slid down the back post to volley a Traoré free kick into the net. Now Villa had the momentum, but they were still oddly ragged at the rear, a flaw Brighton soon punished. When Pascal Gross picked up the ball in the right corner of Villa’s box in the 55th minute, he had time to play through the box to the unmarked March, who guided a crisp curly shot into the upper corner of the goal.
Welbeck had a chance to score again in the 72nd minute, but he swerved. That seemed costly when Villa was given a penalty in the closing seconds after March appeared to catch Trezeguet with one leg back. On the advice of the VAR official, Oliver took a closer look and apparently decided that he had made a mistake on his initial call.
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