West Brom fightback stuns Villa
Premier League, The Hawthorns - West Brom 2 (Brunt 49, Odemwingie 83) Aston Villa 2 (Benteke 12, Agbonlahor 31)
West Brom fought back from two goals down to hold Aston Villa to a 2-2 draw in the Midlands derby at the Hawthorns.
Villa surged into a first-half lead thanks to a thunderbolt from Christian Benteke and a rather more considered finish from Gabriel Agbonlahor, giving Paul Lambert hope of a much-needed lift after a damaging few months for the club.
However, Steve Clarke coaxed a decisive response from a Baggies side that found themselves on a losing streak and fantastic finishes from Chris Brunt and Peter Odemwingie ensured they took a point for the first time in four matches.
Villa still escaped the relegation zone, with a point moving them ahead of Wigan and Reading, while West Brom moved level with Arsenal and Liverpool on 34 points, albeit having played two more games than the former.
Both teams welcomed the return of key figures with the imposing Ron Vlaar back to anchor the Villa defence after a seven-week absence and the tidy Claudio Yacob passed fit to take charge of the West Brom midfield. The Premier League's only remaining Midlands derby also pitted together two teams short of form, with Villa boasting only two wins in 12 and West Brom having lost three in succession.
Having lost Nathan Baker to an early injury - the defender pulling up after being turned by Odemwingie - Villa were forced to endure a rather ominous start to the match, yet after only 12 minutes of the game it was West Brom who found themselves a goal down, and in spectacular fashion too.
Charles N'Zogbia squared the ball to Benteke and out of nowhere the Belgium striker conjured a goal of extreme quality. He feinted one way before quickly turning the other to find a yard of space away from Yacob, and unleashed a ferocious, sensational effort from 20 yards that flew past Ben Foster.
A suddenly despondent West Brom looked like a side on a losing streak and even Romelu Lukaku - with seven goals in eight starts - struggled to make much of an impression bar a hook over his own shoulder that Brad Guzan saved.
Minutes after Vlaar glanced a header wide when sprinting to the near post to meet a corner, Villa did manage to extend their lead. Hitting the Baggies on the break, N'Zogbia fed Agbonlahor and the forward lost Gareth McAuley with a clever touch before then giving Foster the eyes to slot his shot the other side of the keeper.
West Brom quickly lost Yacob to an injury, his return from a nine-game absence lasting only 36 minutes, but a re-jig of the midfield resulted in increased dominance in possession and both Brunt and Graham Dorrans went close with dangerous volleys before the half was out.
Villa continued to wilt after the break and West Brom halved their lead four minutes after the restart. Odemwingie pulled a pass back from the left to find Lukaku, who stopped the ball dead with his back to goal and laid it off to the advancing Brunt. The midfielder met the pass with a sumptuous first-time effort with his left instep that pinged off the inside of the post and in.
The game began to open up a touch and Agbonlahor threatened when he shifted the ball out of his feet to escape Gareth McAuley and fired in a decent effort that drew a save from Foster. In response, Dorrans had a piledriver deflected just wide, Odemwingie passed up a great chance after touching the ball past Guzan as he took the shot on at pace and lifted the ball over a near-open goal, and the same man then drilled another effort narrowly wide of the post.
However, Odemwingie would not be denied with seven minutes remaining. Guzan conceded a corner when he accidentally knocked the ball behind with his legs, and Villa were punished as McAuley rose unmarked to meet the set-piece. His header found Odemwingie, who converted with a spectacular volley over his shoulder from eight yards out.
The Nigeria international even had the ball in the back of the net again following a spectacular shot from inside his own half, but the final whistle had blown seconds earlier to ensure a point apiece.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Peter Odemwingie (West Brom) - Scored a sensational equaliser but also had a hand in West Brom's first goal as he enjoyed a very influential second half.
WEST BROM: Foster 6, Jones 7, McAuley 6, Olsson 7, Ridgewell 6, Yacob 6, Dorrans 7, Odemwingie 8, Morrison 7, Brunt 8, Lukaku 7. Subs: Thomas 6, Rosenberg 6, Thorne N/A.