Baggies fight back to earn deserved draw
ALBION fought back from two goals down to earn a deserved share of the derby spoils in a pulsating local affair.
Villa took control by surging two-nil ahead inside the opening 31 minutes thanks to goals from Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
But in a classic game of two halves, Chris Brunt’s fine 49th-minute strike gave Steve Clarke’s side hope.
And Peter Odemwingie sent the home fans wild by volleying home an equaliser – his fifth of the campaign - seven minutes from time.
The draw was the least Albion deserved thanks to a rousing second-half fight-back.
The two clubs may only be four miles apart, but there was a bigger gulf in the league table at kick-off as ninth entertained second-bottom – separated by 14 points.
Clarke was boosted by the return of key midfielder Claudio Yacob from a seven-week injury absence for the 160th Albion-Villa meeting – the oldest West Midlands derby.
Yacob was one of five changes from the FA Cup defeat by QPR, with Ben Foster, Jonas Olsson, Liam Ridgewell, Odemwingie and Brunt also coming in for Boaz Myill, Gabriel Tamas, Goran Popov, George Thorne, Markus Rosenberg and Jerome Thomas, who were all among the subs.
After a respectful minute’s applause resonated around The Hawthorns in memory of legendary striker Derek Kevan, a crackling atmosphere engulfed the stadium.
Villa threatened after just a minute but Fabian Delph’s ambitious shot was deflected well wide by Billy Jones.
Albion were soon on the attack and after Odemwingie left Nathan Baker on his backside, the Nigerian found Romelu Lukaku whose first-time shot was diverted away by Ron Vlaar. That proved the injured Baker’s last involvement as he was replaced moments later by Eric Lichaj.
However, it was Villa who broke the deadlock – and in some style – on 12. Benteke spun away from Yacob after controlling Charles N’Zogbia’s square-ball before beating Foster all ends up with a rising 25-yard drive.
Albion soon responded but Brad Guzan had little trouble gobbling up Yacob’s 25-yard drive.
Foster had an equally easy save to make when Delph’s shot took a deflection off former Villa left-back Ridgewell.
A Brunt corner wreaked havoc in the Villa box on 17 and from Gareth McAuley’s header, James Morrison directed an acrobatic volley straight at a relieved Guzan.
Albion kept knocking on the door but Odemwingie was off-target with an acute 20-yard shot.
However, the Baggies were struggling to find any rhythm and it was Villa who attacked next, with Foster having the simple task of catching a looping Benteke header, who was well challenged by Olsson, from Agbonlahor’s centre.
The hosts had an even bigger mountain to climb on 31 when Villa doubled their lead. Albion were woefully exposed down their left-hand flank, enabling N’Zogbia to slip in Agbonlahor, who jinked inside McAuley before slipping the ball past Foster from 15 yards.
Albion responded well and, on 33, Graham Dorrans saw a fierce 25-yard drive well saved by Guzan. In the same minute, Morrison fired over from the edge of the box from Odemwingie’s pull-back.
Morrison had another go on 35 but his 20-yard volley failed to trouble Guzan’s goal.
Albion suffered an injury set-back on 36 when the influential Yacob, who had fallen awkwardly on his shoulder, was replaced by Thomas.
The Baggies’ shooting was leaving a lot to be desired and Dorrans was again well off target from distance.
However, the Scot went much closer on 41 when, after terrific build-up play, he flashed a great effort inches wide from 20 yards.
Yet Albion had Foster to thank for keeping the score at 2-0 two minutes before the break. N’Zogbia got away from Olsson and from his low cross, Lichaj saw his six-yard effort brilliantly blocked by the Baggies No.1.
Albion recorded the last shot of the half, with Brunt blasting an 18-yard volley straight at Guzan.
They recorded the first shot of the second 45, too, and it was telling, as they took just four minutes to halve the deficit.
Odemwingie spearheaded a terrific move from inside the Baggies half which culminated in the ex-Lille striker finding Lukaku on the edge of the six-yard box. The on-loan Chelsea man laid it back to the advancing Brunt who calmly stroked the ball in off the left-hand post from just inside the box.
With The Hawthorns rocking, Albion began to build up a head of steam and Lukaku flashed a header across the six-yard box from Thomas’ centre.
However, N’Zogbia was proving a real menace at the other and Olsson did well to nip in and clear the winger’s low cross before a Villa player could pounce.
From another Villa counter-attack, Agbonlahor outstripped Ridgewell before seeing his fierce 15-yard shot well parried by Foster.
Back came Albion and Dorrans saw a ferocious shot deflected just wide by Matthew Lowton. From Brunt’s ensuing corner, there was real Albion agony as McAuley saw a towering header hacked off the line by sub Barry Bannan. Villa only half cleared and Morrison advanced just inside the box before poking over.
Another chance arrived on 66 when Odemwingie raced clear onto Brunt’s raking pass and nicked the ball past the onrushing Guzan. However, with the goal empty, the off-balance striker fired wide from a tight angle.
Brunt was the next to try his luck with a right-footed 25-yarder which screwed well wide. It was the same outcome on 74 when the skipper let fly again – this time with his left foot.
The wayward shooting was catching, with sub Brett Holman firing high into the Smethwick End on 76.
But Odemwingie went much closer on 78. After skipping past Bannan, he shaded the far post with a fine 20-yard strike.
The striker was less accurate when he turned in the box and blasted a decent opening well over.
But it WAS 2-2 five minutes later. From Brunt’s corner, McAuley directed a free header into the six-yard box and Odemwingie swivelled to volley home.
Albion went hell for leather for a winner and Odemwingie flashed a header over in the 90th minute from Brunt’s centre.
Then, deep into stoppage time, after a great Lukaku run and cross, Joe Bennett denied Odemwingie a certain second by nipping in and clearing at the near-post.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob (Thomas 36), Brunt (c) (Thorne 90+4); Odemwingie, Morrison, Dorrans (Rosenberg 82); Lukaku. Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Popov, Dawson, Tamas.
VILLA (4-3-3): Guzan; Baker (Lichaj 5), Vlaar (c), Clark, Bennett; Lowton, Delph (Bannan 53), Westwood; N’Zogbia (Holman 66), Benteke, Agbonlahor. Subs not used: Marshall (gk), Bent, Ireland, Bowery.
GOALS: ALBION – Brunt (49), Odemwingie (83). VILLA – Benteke (12), Agbonlahor (31).
BOOKINGS: ALBION – Olsson (unsporting behaviour 21), Dorrans (foul 62). VILLA – Agbonlahor (unsporting behaviour 21), Lichaj (foul 58), Lowton (foul 61).
REFEREE: L Probert (Gloucestershire).
ALBION STARMAN: Peter Odemwingie.