Jacob Ramsey and Daniel James both scored braces as Aston Villa and Leeds played out an enthralling 3-3 draw under lights at Villa Park.
After some sloppy play from Tyrone Mings, Leeds took a 9th minute lead through a well taken Dan James finish. In response, the Villans turned up the heat and began to exploit Bielsaball’s biggest weakness; the exposure of Leeds’ defence after their high throttle attacks are broken up. Referee Jarred Gillett was keen to let play run, leading to massive amounts of space for Villa to attack.
It began with Cash fizzing in a ball from the right wing to Coutinho, who took a smart first touch, turned and tucked the ball into the bottom left corner. The Brazilian was at it again just eight minutes later, receiving the ball and gliding past Ayling in one motion in the centre circle, before threading a beautiful ball into the path of Jacob Ramsey who made no mistake with a slick left footed finish. The boy from Great Barr is thriving at the moment, and the debates about whether he will be a star are probably being settled; in my twelve years supporting Villa, I have never seen a player this young perform so consistently.
And when Deja-vu struck just moments later, in the form of Coutinho playing another delightful through pass for Ramsey to slam home, the game really should’ve been over. 3-1 down away at Villa Park is a daunting task for any team, and the directness with which Villa were running their attacks appeared as though it would be too much for Bielsa’s men.
Leeds, however, had not read the script, and signalled their intent before half time via a scruffy Dan James header, following a deflected cross that left Martinez stranded. Whilst it was undoubtedly a tricky ball to deal with, it was certainly a surprise that Mings couldn’t clear the ball with a ten-inch height advantage over the Welsh winger.
Lucas Digne had a glorious chance to restore the two goal advantage on the stroke of half time, but poked his shot just wide, and Villa went into the break with a one goal lead that could’ve easily been two or three.
The restart saw a funny half of football unfold – Leeds certainly had the better of the chances, but Villa looked far more dangerous until they reached the final third, where the final ball just proved elusive. Ollie Watkins nearly buried a pacey Lucas Digne cross, but was just inches away, whilst Mings was resilient in defence following a shaky first half.
The England centre-back somehow used his face to block a shot on the line, and followed it up with two towering defensive headers, as he tried to rally his troops. However, after being forced to play goalkeeper for the second time in as many minutes, Diego Llorente pounced on Mings’ off-balance clearance and slammed the ball home to equalise.
The rest of the match played out cautiously, with both teams eager to push for the winner but neither manager bold enough to send the number of men forward they did in the first half. Konsa received possibly the stupidest second yellow of all time in the 87th minute, throwing his arm across Meslier’s face presumably because he felt like it. The 8 minutes of stoppage time may as well have been nought, with persistent fouling, injury stoppages and tired passing preventing any last-minute excitement.
A Game Like No Other
Both teams will feel they should have won this match, but credit must be given to the Whites, who’s commitment to their chaotic play turned a usually very organised Villa defence into a shambles. Alternatively, Ramsey, Buendia and Coutinho were unstoppable as a three behind Watkins; the latter two are a joy to watch on the ball and have now completely erased any doubts about the pair playing in the same team. Rodrigo played with a lot of flair but wasn’t quite able to convert it into goals, whilst Raphina was disappointing in a game that really should’ve suited his play style. One might be tempted to call this game end to end, but that would imply a lot more quality through the middle of the park than we actually saw (Coutinho excluded); in reality, it was a perfect combination of scrap, chaos and defensive mistakes that lead to a cracking game for the neutral.
Jury Out for Many
In a transfer window where Steven Gerrard signalled his intent to move Villa quickly up the table, several players will be looking over their shoulders for the looming big money signings that could replace them come summer. Which makes the performance of Villa’s 6 defensive minded players tonight even more baffling! Villa were and still are in the market for a defensive mid, and tonight it was obvious why. Douglas Luiz was extremely poor on a night that he really needed to stand up, and his sloppy play often forced McGinn to chase Leeds’ attackers instead of supporting his own. Mings was at fault for the first goal, and could have done a lot better for the second, but the slander against him for their equaliser is very unjustified. After defending solo for around 5 minutes, a goal was bound to come without any defensive support. Too often Cash and Digne were nowhere to be seen, and Konsa was exceptionally quiet before trying to shove his fingers up Meslier’s nose. Given he will now miss the must win (in order to relegate Newcastle) match on Sunday, it was an extremely disappointing end to disappointing game for Vila’s usually rock-solid centre half. Ollie Watkins was off the pace, and the question has to be asked; is he as valuable to the team as he was 12 months ago? One to forget for a lot of players, but one to remember for Stevie G and co.
I love nothing more than a referee who starts a game by letting things flow. In the first 60 minutes, I though Jared Gillett (Australia’s only current PL representative) was excellent. It helped both teams’ attacks and was the antithesis of the stop-start football that certain refs embody. However, I hate nothing more than a referee starting a game by allowing it to flow, before panicking as the game goes on and swallowing the whistle. Out of nowhere, challenges that were being played on became yellow cards, and I don’t think it’s too outlandish to claim he was at least a little rattled by the crown and the benches, with a few funny bookings dished out by the technical area. Matty Cash slid and cleared the ball 40 metres, but was booked for his follow through, which seemed very standard to me. I’ve watched the challenge back 8 times, and I’m yet to see why he would receive a yellow other than the Burnley bench screaming into the ref’s ear. I still think Gillett is a great referee, but I think a few more Norwich vs Burnley type fixtures are in order before he gets a shot at another big match.
Villa take on Newcastle at St James’ Park on Sunday, in what will most likely be Villa’s last chance to mount a European charge. Leeds travel to Goodison Park, where they will most likely win as they are playing Everton.