A Fan's View: Albion 2 Villa 2

Our recent run of poor form along with a ludicrous 5.30pm kick off time on a Saturday and freezing conditions had me for once in my life questioning whether I would bother to attend the match against our nearest local rivals. In the end I couldn't resist.

I was reminded of the home derby match almost 29 years to the day into the mists of time against the Villa back in January 1984 when a 10 minute burst of magic by firstly Regis, followed by two towering Gary Thompson headers brought us a 3-1 victory in a blizzard. Our latest encounter evoked the spirit and atmosphere of those long gone days.

A healthy and vibrant crowd braved a bitter evening to watch a faltering Albion take on a shell shocked young Villa side. Surely only a resounding home victory would satisfy most Albion fans, and for the first time in many a long year, many Villa fans would be grateful to leave with anything – even a creditable defeat may have been tolerable.

Team selection

Steve Clarke sprung a couple of surprises with Ridgewell claiming the left back spot ahead of the recently impressive Popov and the under-performing Dorrans maintaining a slot in the midfield. Good to see Claudio Yacob return to the side, but disappointment at the news that Shane Long was unfit.

Paul Lambert maintained his belief in a young side but was bolstered by the return of the impressive Ronald Vlaar and the team had a threatening look up front with the enigmatic Nzogbia, one goal per season Agbonlahor ( usually against us though! ) and the beast Benteke.

First half

I don't know where to start with Albion. Maybe I won't bother… they certainly didn't!

A first half of an ineptitude I have rarely ever witnessed before and certainly almost never in a derby match.

A lack of passion and purpose was evident along with a total lack of cohesion in terms of team shape.

Yacob appeared unfit and then injured his shoulder. He was culpable in both Villa's goals and he looked to be missing his sidekick Mulumbu.

Billy Jones had a torrid time against Benteke and Agbonlahor as Villa exploited the space in front of and behind him. Although he was receiving little or no help from our "Prodigal Son" who appeared to be daydreaming about a move down to London!

Villa were rewarded with a much deserved strike from Benteke. His 25 yarder rates amongst the best goals I personally have ever witnessed at The Hawthorns. Certainly in my top ten either for or against Albion.

Terrible defending by Albion left MacAuley exposed and flat footed as Agbonlahor scored his "Goal of the season" with a neat finish wrong-footing Foster.

Albion offered little in response other than a few long range and wayward attempts that had more chance of seeing the player responsible charged with the aggravated assault of the Villa fans on Row Z than troubling Guzan in the Villa goal.

The half time whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos from the underwhelmed and angry home brethren and the talk amongst our section was whether we could keep the score down to three or four as all hope seemed to be gone. A shocking 45 minutes make no mistake about that!

Second half

Albion had introduced Jerome Thomas for the injured Yacob on 35 minutes and in the second half JT was instrumental in turning the whole performance around for the home side with a performance of the like we have not seen from our winger in the last couple of seasons.

With Dorrans also shaking off the malaise that has overcome his game in the last three seasons the pair of them drove Albion forward with vigour and purpose and allowed some hope to spring into our hearts.

Odemwingie was at his infuriating best causing havoc one minute but then half asleep the next. He was shooting from the most ridiculous of angles but at least there was life in our challenge.

Neat build up play on the left involving Odemwingie and some good hold up play by Lukaku allowed a good lay off to Brunty who curled a delicious left footer in of the post from the edge of the box.

Game on.

Almost total Albion domination ensued but Villa's occasional breaks still carried a potent threat and it was a relief to see Paul Lambert remove Nzogbia from the game – a strange decision given his performance to that point.

A few near misses from Albion in the next 20 minutes with much of the play inspired by the raiding of Billy Jones from right back who was suddenly released from constant threat by Benteke and Agbonlahor, but still no equaliser as we entered the final ten minutes.

Then Villa's Achilles heel was once again exposed from a corner.

MacAuley shrugged off Benteke and got his head to the cross and Odemwingie managed to get free of Ron Vlaar to twist and unleash a sideways volley right up into the angle of the goal. A class strike by the Nigerian who we try so hard to love.

The roof was off and the volume at fever pitch as Albion poured forward in search of what would have been an undeserved winner.

The final whistle pierced the crystal clear night air and both set of fans breathed a heavy sigh of relief I suspect. I know I did.

Conclusion

Having watched both games versus Villa this year I have to say that I believe they are a better side than the one I saw us against last season.

Lambert has divided opinion amongst the Seals with his ultra youth policy and personally I take my hat off to him. I think he has a fine young team in the making if he can find a midfield general and another centre half.

Like most Albion fans I would not shed any tears if Villa do take the drop this year, but what I saw the other night was not a relegation team in that first half. But the second half showed they could really be got at, so I wouldn't put money on them staying up.

What of Albion?

I remain unconvinced with Steve Clarke's team selections and tactics, as many on our forum will know.

I feel that his beloved 4-2-3-1 leaves our full backs too exposed and if Yacob and Mulumbu are out of the side then the "two" used to fill those gaps do not offer the same level of nous and protection for our defence.

Our defence is also worrying me. We are shipping too many goals and although I like MaC and Olsson I do feel the former is starting to get found out more at this level.

After a period of not enjoying our performances I have to say that our second half has given me a lift and I hope Clarke takes notice and adopts a more positive approach.

A smashing match played in good old fashioned conditions with 22 fully committed players... what more could one ask other than for a win!?

Have your say on Albion's draw here at Baggies Banter.