Derby honours even as sub Bent cancels out Long openerTHE derby spoils were shared at Villa Park as sub Darren Bent cancelled out Shane Long’s opener.
Long looked to have set Albion on their way to a second successive win on claret-and-blue soil when he tapped home the opening goal on 51.
But Bent had the final say when he smashed home the loose ball from a Villa corner ten minutes from time.
A draw was probably the right result in a typically tight West Midlands affair as Albion extended their unbeaten run against Villa to four games.
The two clubs are separated by just four miles but started the day six points apart as 15th entertained sixth.
For the 159th Villa-Baggies derby, Steve Clarke rang two changes from the last league game, with Goran Popov granted his debut in place of ex-Villain Liam Ridgewell, who failed a late fitness test on a calf problem. Long was also preferred in attack to Reading match-winner Romelu Lukaku, who dropped to the bench.
Paul Lambert made four changes from Villa’s 4-1 defeat at Southampton eight days ago. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Marc Albrighton, Fabian Delph and Joe Bennett replaced benched trio Bent, Barry Bannan and Eric Lichaj plus the injured Stephen Ireland.
Both sets of fans were in full voice as the game got underway – and the visiting section should have been dancing in the aisles after only six minutes. From Chris Brunt’s centre, James Morrison nodded the ball sideways to Long who wastefully directed a tame downward header wide from eight yards.
Long was in the thick of it again a minute later when he controlled Zoltan Gera’s pass and blazed wide from 20 yards.
Albion were on top and, from their first corner on 12, Morrison saw a goalbound shot on the turn blocked in a crowded goalmouth in front of the Holte End.
Villa began to exert some pressure on the Baggies goal by winning a succession of corners – the third of which resulted from an acrobatic Jonas Olsson clearance to prevent Christian Benteke getting on the end of Agbonlahor’s centre.
It was turning into an intriguing encounter and it was Albion’s turn to threaten again on 18 when Gera jinked inside before shooting straight at Brad Guzan from 25 yards.
Derby rivalries were put to one side in the 19th minute when Baggies fans joined their Villa counterparts in clapping for 60 seconds in support of home midfielder Stan Petrov, who wears the No.19 shirt and is battling against leukaemia.
Completely out of the blue, Ben Foster was called on to make his first save of the game on 25 when he brilliantly tipped over Brett Holman’s 30-yard exocet.
A neat passing move, spearheaded by skipper Ron Vlaar’s charge forward, created a half chance for Benteke but the Belgian striker was well off target with his acute 15-yard drive.
At the other end, Morrison and Long linked up well to set up a shooting chance for Brunt, who could only volley high into the Holte End from 25 yards.
Clear-cut chances were at an absolute premium and there was another wayward effort from distance on 36, this time from Holman’s right boot as he strode onto Agbonlahor’s lay-off.
Albion suffered an injury blow on 39 when Brunt pulled up after blocking Matthew Lowton’s cross. The skipper appeared to have hurt his hamstring.
From Marc Albrighton’s ensuing corner, Ciaran Clark won the aerial battle but headed harmlessly wide.
Moments later, Graham Dorrans replaced Brunt, who was unable to continue.
Foster was called on to make his second impressive save of the afternoon on 41 when, slightly wrong-footed, he managed to claw wide Holman’s 15-yard strike which took a wicked deflection off Billy Jones.
Villa then passed up a great chance. The usually rock solid Gareth McAuley dallied on the ball near the right-hand touchline and was dispossessed by Benteke. The Villa No.20 carried the ball into the box but shot over from 15 yards.
The Baggies suffered another injury blow in stoppage time when Jones hobbled off and was replaced by midweek goalscorer Gabriel Tamas.
Albion had the ball in the net five minutes after the break when Long head home Youssouf Mulumbu’s cross – but the effort was correctly ruled out for offside
However, within 60 seconds, the Republic of Ireland striker repeated the trick – and this time it DID count.
Morrison broke the Villa offiside trap to race onto Gera’s neat through-ball and from his low centre, Vlaar could only nudge the ball into Long’s path who tapped home from close range.
Villa reacted strongly to going behind by laying siege to the Baggies goal.
On 53, it took a fine Popov block to prevent Benteke tucking home Albrighton’s low cross.
Then, as the visitors struggled to get out of their own half, Villa won a free-kick 20 yards out. Bennett curled a terrific effort around the Baggies wall but also just wide of the left-hand post.
But Albion stood strong and created another decent chance on 61. Gera found Long in acres of space on the edge of the Villa box but he snatched at it and shot weakly at Guzan.
On 64, Guzan had to make a far more difficult save to push away Tamas’ ferocious centre which was arcing inside the Villa keeper’s top left-hand corner.
Albion kept pushing for a second but Popov was off target with a 20-yard left-footer.
Villa’s next effort arrived on 68 when Benteke had a right-footed curler from the edge of the box deflected wide by Claudio Yacob.
Clarke made his final change on 72, replacing Long with Lukaku.
Villa kept plugging away for an equaliser but sub Charles N’Zogbia screwed wide from just inside the box on 79.
However, they WERE level a minute later. From sub Bannan’s corner, Clark’s goalbound prod from Vlar’s header was cleared off the line but the loose ball fell to Bent who fired past Foster on the angle.
Albion almost went back in front on 83 when Lukaku charged forward and saw his left-footed shot clip Clark, loop over Guzman and hit the outside of the far post.
Guzman also had to be at his best to deny Lukaku from an acute angle on 88.
VILLA (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Bennett; El Ahmadi, Delph (Bannan 71); Albrighton (N’Zogbia 66), Holman, Agbonlahor; Benteke (Bent 68). Subs not used: Given (gk), Lichaj, Westwood, Weimann.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones (Tamas 45+2), McAuley, Olsson, Popov; Mulumbu, Yacob; Gera, Morrison, Brunt (Dorrans 40); Long (Lukaku 72). Subs not used: L Daniels (gk), El Ghanassy, Fortune, Rosenberg.
GOALS: VILLA – Bent (80). ALBION – Long (51).
BOOKINGS: ALBION - Tamas (foul 90+4). VILLA – Delph (foul 23).
REFEREE: A Taylor (Manchester).
ALBION STARMAN: Shane Long.