O'Neill thrilled by Aston Villa's growing momentum on the road
West Bromwich 1 Aston Villa 2
Even by Aston Villa's current standards, that was some week. Victories in north London and Bulgaria were followed yesterday by one just up the road that restored them to the Premier League's leading bracket.
For 45 minutes, West Bromwich Albion made a terrific contest of it, showcasing all that is good about their own game – and some of their weaknesses – but were lucky not to lose by more in the end.
John Carew, having opened the scoring with the first of two Villa goals in 90 seconds just before the half-hour, hit the woodwork twice in quick succession early in the second half and the home side led a charmed life.
Villa's sights, though, are set sky-high. Unusually, Martin O'Neill went on the pitch to celebrate the win with his players after a performance at times electrifying and ultimately thoroughly professional. "Our momentum is terrific," said the manager. "I couldn't be more pleased that we've won three away games in seven days.
"We're a definite threat going forward and play some lovely attacking football. John Carew gives us presence and he and Gabby Agbonlahor are forging a terrific partnership. Albion started well but we came into it with a vengeance – I thought we were brilliant."
Albion's opening forays were all the more commendable as they lost their central defender Abdou Meite during the warm-up after he aggravated a calf injury, while Chris Brunt then pulled up lame.
They had their full-backs Gianni Zuiverloon and Paul Robinson bombing forward repeatedly and Brad Friedel had to go down sharply to deal with Jonathan Greening's early 25-yarder.
Albion were nowhere near as proficient was in keeping the back door closed, Carew heading just wide and then nodding in superbly via the post from successive free-kicks by Ashley Young.
Meite's replacement Leon Barnett allowed the Norwegian to wander goal-side of him on that occasion and clumsily miscontrolled Young's through ball almost immediately. Agbonlahor gained possession midway in Albion's half and veered away from Jonas Olsson to highlight his 100th game for the club with a stunning right-foot finish.
A game that seemed close to being decided was instead soon thrown open again when Friedel dealt poorly with Robert Koren's long-range shot and James Morrison toe-poked in.
The second half was routine as Villa took a grip that should have brought more goals, Carew clipping the post with a shot from Nigel Reo-Coker's pass and heading against the same piece of frame from a cross by the excellent Stilian Petrov.
"Take away the goals and I don't think there was a gulf," said the West Bromwich manager Tony Mowbray. "There was some very poor defending and we have to eradicate that. People aren't interested in whether you've played well, just in your results."
Goals: Carew (27) 0-1; Agbonlahor (29) 0-2; Morrison (33) 1-2.
West Bromwich Albion (4-5-1): Carson; Zuiverloon, Olsson, Barnett, Robinson;
Morrison, Koren, Greening, Valero (Moore, 57), Brunt (Kim, 20); Bednar (Miller, 57). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Hoefkens, Cech, Donk.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Luke Young, Davies, Laursen, Shorey (Milner, 75); Reo-Coker, Petrov (Gardner, 82), Barry, Ashley Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Cuellar, 89). Substitutes not used: Harewood, Knight, Salifou, Guzan (gk).
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: West Bromwich Morrison, Robinson, Valero; Aston Villa Luke Young, Carew, Ashley Young.
Man of the match: Carew.