ASTON VILLA 2 WEST BROMWICH ALBION 1
It was a day of contrasting fortunes for two players who have both worn the claret and blue of Aston Villa and the navy and white stripes of West Bromwich Albion, but the impact of goalkeeper Scott Carson and defender Curtis Davies on this result was just a sub-plot in the bigger story of two clubs with equally contrasting fortunes.
Davies was booed by the travelling Albion fans after he made the switch from The Hawthorns to Villa Park but he showed he is above the boo boys with short memories by refusing to celebrate his 19th-minute header which put the hosts ahead. Carson was equally derided by the Villa fans after his loan spell at Villa Park last season but unlike Davies, he could only add fire to the flames by inadvertently deflecting Gabby Agbonlahor’s 41st-minute shot from an acute angle into his own net.
The Albion keeper has been through the ringer in the past after making high profile gaffs, most memorably for England against Croatia in the vital European Championship qualifier at Wembley, and he is certainly of strong character. He proved it by producing a string of top quality saves at the start of the second half to keep his side in the game.
His contribution was vital because James Morrison had pulled a goal back four minutes after the interval with a shot from the edge of the area that had deflected past Brad Friedel off Davies.
Thanks to Carson, Albion were in a game that they could have been beyond them, despite once again playing some attractive football and dominating possession for long spells.
In fact, until Davies stooped to head home Gareth Barry’s right wing cross after Morrison and Jonathan Greening had twice cleared off the line, Albion were the better side after a sloppy start by Villa.
It is a common tale for Albion boss Tony Mowbray, who is fully aware that his side simply don’t hurt sides enough.
Their attacking play might be pleasing on the eye but it isn’t taxing enough to opposing defences.
Mowbray partnered former Villa striker Luke Moore and on-loan youngster Jay Simpson, who was getting his first taste of Premier League football, in attack and it wasn’t until Roman Bednar replaced the ineffectual Moore at half-time that Albion did look dangerous.
In fact, had referee Steve Bennett taken a different view of Ashley Young’s challenge on Robert Koren inside the Villa penalty area in added time, Albion could have scraped a draw from this entertaining derby clash.
However, Mowbray knows he must add some potency to his attack if his side are to pull off another Great Escape.
“Today probably epitomised us a little bit,” said Mowbray.
“We had plenty of the ball, moved it around well and Villa were only really a threat on the counter-attack.
“Yet they found themselves 2-0 up in a game where they weren’t really creating any clear-cut chances.
“I think when Jay, a 20-year-old coming from Arsenal, is our biggest threat it probably sums up where we are.
“I’ve sat many a time after games and thought we’ve done pretty well but we haven’t really threatened the opposition enough.
“I hope to bring another centre-forward in in another week or two. I’m trying to improve the quality in that area of the pitch.”
As for Villa, this victory lifted them into third in the table and within five points of leaders Liverpool, but any thoughts of a title challenge are premature.
Wingers Ashley Young and James Milner were Villa’s main threat, and Agbonlahor’s pace gave the Albion defence plenty of headaches, but the midfield trio of Steve Sidwell, Barry and Stiliyan Petrov were the driving force.
If all stay fit, Martin O’Neill’s men will give Arsenal a run for their money in the chase for the final Champions League spot, but if Villa pick up injuries then their challenge could falter unless O’Neill bolsters his squad this month.
It is a good sign that they can still grind out victories like this when they haven’t been firing on all cylinders.