Aston Villa extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to nine games after drawing 1-1 with Brentford as Unai Emery’s side head into the final six games of the season with qualification for Europe firmly in their sights.
Brentford have only lost two games at home all season, so Emery was relieved that side left the Gtech Community Stadium with something to show for a performance he described as “very, very bad.” Ivan Toney opened the scoring minutes after the hour mark, before Douglas Luiz restored parity for Villa at the death.
The draw moves Villa within two points of Tottenham Hotspur, who occupy fifth position ahead of their clash with Newcastle United on Sunday. A top six finish remains a genuine possibility for Villa after proving they can
Here are the talking points from Villa’s win over Brentford…
MARTINEZ INFLUENCE CLEAR AFTER WORRYING SECOND HALF
Brentford’s 20 minutes of dominance after the interval was arguably the poorest Villa have played under Emery, with his side lacking quality and control during that period. Martinez’s enforced substitution due to illness affected Villa as they retreated with every passing minute.
The Argentina number one was outstanding in the first half, as he collected crosses, commanded his penalty box and made a crucial block to deny Toney an opening goal before half-time. Martinez exudes confidence and is sorely missed when he’s not behind Villa’s backline.
His replacement, Olsen, made his fourth appearance of the season on Saturday afternoon. The Sweden international kept a clean sheet at Tottenham Hotspur in his last game back in January, and was called into action just minutes into the second half at Brentford.
Bryan Mbeumo’s intelligent pass found Kevin Schade, whose header was initially saved by Olsen, but the goalkeeper couldn’t gather the ball, which presented the Brentford winger with an open goal, but he skewed his finish and hit the side-netting. Moments later, Villa went down the other end and won a corner, which every player went up for, with Ashley Young sat deepest on the edge of Brentford’s penalty box.
After Villa won the corner, Emery shouted at Olsen and gave him a thumbs-up, gesturing to assure him that he adopted the right starting position to deny Schade, despite making hard work of the save. It was important Olsen composed himself for what was a big half of football ahead.
VILLA ARE BUILDING FROM A STRONG FOUNDATION
Of course, Toney would later open the scoring, but Villa’s backline dealt with Brentford’s firepower well for the most part. Centre-backs Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings won all of six of their aerial duels, while Konsa made a match-high 13 recoveries and Mings recorded eight clearances.
Villa couldn’t keep a sixth clean sheet in eight, but the goal they conceded against Brentford was only their second from open play in that period. That’s a remarkable record. If Villa hadn’t kept the score to just 1-0 when they were on the back foot against a very dangerous Brentford team, then they wouldn’t have drawn the match.
Before Villa’s 2-0 win over Everton in February, Emery insisted that his side must play with more organisation and structure having shipped 11 goals in defeats against Leicester City, Man City and Arsenal. His side are now one of the hardest teams to beat in the Premier League after scoring in all 19 games, while they’ve proven they can play a quality brand of attacking football and keep the back door shut at the other end.
EMERY BREAKS ANOTHER RECORD
Villa scoring in all 19 league games under Emery is in fact the longest run of goalscoring to begin a head coach’s reign in the history of the Premier League. As the game appeared to be heading away from Villa in its last knockings, Emery’s side showed real character and mettle to get back in the game and send their supporters away with something to cheer about.
It was Buendia who applied a little composure in a frantic five minute period – which saw Villa bombard the Brentford crosses – towards the end of the 90, to assist Luiz so he could score his fourth goal of the season. After levelling the game, Villa might have won it if Buendia got his head on to Calum Chambers’ cross in the final moments of the clash.
Buendia collected the ball in midfield before finding Chambers, whose cross was delivered perfectly for the former Norwich City star to guide on target, but striker Ollie Watkins backed himself to score a winner instead. His header looped over the bar, which angered Buendia. The Argentine ran towards the post frustrated that Watkins didn’t leave the cross for him.
EZRI NAILS VILLA VERDICT
Villa’s momentum hasn’t been stopped, with a late equaliser making the point all the more sweeter for Emery, his players and the fans. Asked if the draw with Brentford was a point gained rather than two lost, Konsa told BBC WM: “Yeah, 100 per cent. I think everyone watching the game could see how much pressure we were under in the second half and at times we defended well, but they had chances that they didn’t take.
“I also felt like if we played another five or ten minutes then we could have nicked it ourselves. I think it goes to show how far we have come. We managed to get a point at such a difficult place and we are happy. We move on to Tuesday now.
Konsa added: “I wouldn’t say it was frustrating because coming into the game we knew that Brentford have only lost two games at home all season and we wanted to come out here and defend well as a team and try and play with our style, which is ball possession. They made it difficult for us, but we stuck together and we managed to get a point in the end.”
EMERY UPBEAT DESPITE PASSING UP ON 6/6
A victory at Brentford would have set a club record for consecutive victories in the Premier League era, after Emery’s side won five in a row before travelling to west London.
“It was a very good draw,” Emery said to Villa TV. “We are very happy with the result. Of course, we wanted to win but we didn’t deserve to win. Here, it’s a very difficult team to face and to try to control the game like we have been doing. Away, we have been very competitive and winning and drawing, like in West Ham.
“Today we struggled like we thought could happen, but not like we did in the second half for more than 20, 25 minutes. The reaction was very good and it was a very good point. This point can be a good point, trying to keep distance with Brentford in the table.”
He added: “It was very difficult against this team after going behind 1-0 because they’re very strong defensively. We did it and I was very happy because the players showed our spirit. They tried to occupy spaces better higher up and get more players in the box.
“Before the match, we were preparing it. But we didn’t want to happen on the pitch because in that situation we were losing and at the end trying to win the match. It happened and it was a very good reaction from the players.”
BRENTFORD FRUSTRATION DEMONSTRATES VILLA PROGRESS
Very rarely have Villa underperformed on the road, but crucially taken something from the game since returning to the Premier League in 2019. They’re now unbeaten in their last five away games under Emery after avoiding defeat at Brentford.
Emery explained that he was “upset” with his side’s performances against Chelsea and Leicester earlier this month, and despite winning both games, he knows what his group of players are capable of. He was far from satisfied with how Villa played on Saturday, but recognised that getting out of Brentford with a point is proof that his team are a tough nut to crack.
Brentford created more openings and the better chances to win the game before Luiz equalised late in the second half. Goalscorer Toney and manager Frank were frustrated that they couldn’t see their win out.
“There are positives to take from the game today,” Toney said. “But it’s two points dropped. Villa are where they are for a reason; they’re relentless and got a point in the end.
“If you don’t take your chances, you get punished. It’s clear to see that we’ve got to take our chances. They got a goal that put us on the back foot, after we’d been on the front foot. They’ll be happy with a draw, whereas it’s two points dropped for us.”
Frank agreed: “There should only be one winner of this game. We were close to a complete performance. Before their goal they only had that chance-ish with Ramsey. They had three or four shots or ricochets before they scored. Before that they had zip, nothing.
“When you’re only 1-0 up that can happen and the opponents get a goal. I’m so proud of the team, proud of the players. That’s football.
“[Kevin Schade] just needs that goal. I’m so pleased with Kevin. Our front three looked so dangerous. It’s that fine balance between focusing on the performances, very happy with that. We have a lot of drive and determination. When there can only be one winner it’s a bit frustrating.”