Ashley Westwood capped a superb second-half fightback from Aston Villa as the visitors rescued a 2-2 draw at local rivals West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
Paul Lambert’s side looked destined for a derby defeat at The Hawthorns after Albion raced into a two-goal lead within the first 11 minutes thanks to a pair of fine goals from Shane Long, but Villa struck twice in the space of nine minutes after the break as Karim El Ahmadi reduced the deficit, before Westwood’s first goal for the club ensured the two midlands teams remain level on 15 points.
Lambert, who sparked Villa’s revival with a triple substitution in the 57th minute, said: “In the second half we were fantastic. We were really resolute.”
“We spoke about making changes at halftime, but we decided to wait a bit. The three of them [Andreas Weimann, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fabian Delph] have been big players for us all season and they made a huge difference,” he said. “I thought Ashley Westwood took the game by the scruff of the neck as well. He was terrific.”
Albion boss Steve Clarke said: “When you are leading comfortably, you feel you should get the three points, but Villa made the changes and the energy seemed to unsettle us.”
“We gave away a bad goal, and that gave Villa the momentum and they took advantage,” he added.
The hosts will be kicking themselves for finishing with just one point after a blistering start threatened to blow visitors Aston Villa away.
Only three minutes had been played when Republic of Ireland striker Long showed sublime technique to control Chris Brunt’s long pass with one touch, before flicking the ball away from Villa’s Nathan Baker and firing into the net from the edge of the penalty area.
Long produced another memorable strike eight minutes later when he pounced on a misplaced pass from Leandro Bacuna and accelerated away from Baker, before clipping a chip over Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan and in off the crossbar.
Villa were shell-shocked and Stephane Sessegnon should have added to their misery moments later, but he somehow managed to fluff his lines when presented with a simple close-range chance by Morgan Amalfitano.
The visitors finally sparked into life before halftime when Libor Kozak hit the bar from Christian Benteke’s flick.
Long and Benteke both went close to scoring in the final minutes of the half, but there was more drama to come.
Villa’s Weimann tested Albion goalkeeper Boaz Myhill with a fierce shot that deflected off Jonas Olsson, and Lambert’s men got one back in the 67th minute when Weimann headed into the penalty area and Morocco midfielder El Ahmadi took advantage of hesitation from Myhill to hook home on the turn.
Former Crewe Alexandra midfielder Westwood had gone 41 games without a goal for Villa since his ￡2 million (US$3.2 million) move in August last year, but he ended that drought in the 76th minute and salvaged a point in the process.
Agbonlahor’s cross was headed away by Goran Popov and Westwood seized possession just outside the penalty area, before hitting a low, swerving drive which flew past Myhill’s despairing dive.