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aston villa 3 1000x500Just as it was at Wolves and Brighton in the previous two away games, we came away with a point from a draw yesterday at Aston Villa although this time the result was 2-2 rather than 1-1 and just like the Brighton draw two weeks ago we had to come from behind to get that point.

In what was hardly a classic game of real quality, we found ourselves a goal behind at half time, a scoreline we couldn’t have too much complaint about, but came back to equalise in the second half with a Jay Rodriguez header. Villa restored their lead with just over ten minutes of normal time remaining but ninety seconds later it was 2-2 with another header, this time from Chris Wood, and by the time the final whistle blew I’m sure only Dean Smith didn’t think we were deserving of our result.

It was back on the road yesterday after the rail journey to Brighton and it wouldn’t be a football trip I suppose without concerns regarding the traffic conditions. We had our problems going to Wolves and were alerted to M6 problems in Staffordshire just before leaving home yesterday which had us quickly looking to revise our pre-match plans. Thankfully, those problems had disappeared before we hit that stretch of motorway and all was well with the journey, our stop and then the short trip to our planned parking place for the afternoon which, unfortunately, had disappeared due to building work although a quick readjustment saw us reach Villa Park in plenty of time.

I like Villa Park. I’ve not visited there too often over the years because of our contrasting fortunes but it was one of the first away grounds I ever went to, my first visit coming 58 seasons ago, although it does look somewhat different now to the old ground which had two large terraces at either end. My only problem going there is their home kit which can leave it so easy to fall into the trap that they are actually Villa and not us, even more so when we turn out in what I think is a very poor and drab looking kit.

We didn’t expect any team changes for this one and we didn’t get any other than on the bench. As expected, the defenders rotated with Phil Bardsley and Ben Gibson returning in place of Charlie Taylor and Kevin Long and with Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson available again I don’t think it was any surprise that he took Matěj Vydra’s substitute place.

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We had both Matt Lowton and Ashley Westwood in our starting eleven; they had Tom Heaton and I have to admit to being beyond surprised at the reception he received from some Burnley fans as the teams came out. He was our first choice goalkeeper really for six years, club captain for the last four of them, commanded great respect in the dressing room with the rest of the squad and I really can’t get my head around some of our fans booing him as he acknowledged the away support ahead of kick off.

There isn’t too much to write about positively about our first half performance although, to be fair, we held our own for the first half hour or so even if Villa did probably shade it. We both missed good headed chances, John McGinn for them and Chris Wood for us, and we both hit the woodwork from free kicks.

The free kick award that led to them hitting the post, which Nick Pope had covered in any case, was a joke decision from Lee Mason, but it wasn’t his only one on an afternoon when it would have been easier selecting the six winning lottery numbers ahead of working out exactly what he was doing and what decisions he was making. Dwight McNeil hit the bar for us with our free kick. Had it been creeping in just below the woodwork, Heaton wouldn’t have got to it.

The real turning point in the half came when McGinn, who I thought was Villa’s best player by a country mile, gave them the lead, converting a cross from the left. The ball was back on the centre spot waiting for Jeff Hendrick to get the game restarted when Mason suddenly got it, showed us his TV signal and disallowed it for offside. Burnley fans chanted in favour of VAR; Villa fans added the four letter word beginning with F in front of the three letters VAR. It was the correct decision, one that should have been seen by the assistant but how on earth did it take so long to come to its conclusion?

It all seemed to lift Villa who went on from then to half time to have their best spell of the game during which they took the lead with an exceptional goal. Our two full backs will look at their respective parts in the goal with some concern; Lowton gave the ball away cheaply trying to play it into their box and Erik Pieters hardly closed them down when they got the ball out wide on their right, but when the cross came in, it was brilliant from Anwar El Ghazi, his movement to get in front of Ben Mee and then the sublime finish.

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There were twelve minutes to go to half time and this is the time when the game could have been lost. Villa should have added to their lead, but they didn’t and perhaps we were relieved to get back into the dressing room with only a one goal deficit.

With Jack Cork not returning due to a shoulder injury, and with no central midfielder on the bench, Sean Dyche opted not to move Jeff Hendrick inside but brought on Rodriguez as we went 4-3-3, and undoubtedly the second half was much, much better for us.

We were so close to levelling when Ashley Barnes played in Hendrick on the right hand side of the box. From as far away as it was possible to be, it looked as if he’d skied his effort, but he was so unlucky to see it deflect off Tyrone Mings and it was that which took it over the bar.

By now we were the better side but we weren’t particularly pressing home our advantage and we weren’t creating too much in terms of goalscoring opportunities. Then it came. The ball came across from the right and found Barnes who did so well to hold it up. Pieters took over and despite being fouled was able to get his cross over for Jay Rod to head home his first Premier League goal for Burnley.

The BBC kindly did the calculations for us, not as though I’d have bothered, but it was his first league goal for us in 2,758 days since netting a penalty against Crystal Palace on 10th March 2012. One week earlier, he’d scored in open play against Sean Dyche’s Watford.  That was the day we led 2-0 only to lose 3-2 after an horrendous second half performance.

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“He’s one of our own,” sang the jubilant Burnley fans in the Deadly Doug Ellis Stand and from then until the next goal we looked by far the more likely. We might have taken the lead when Westwood scored with an audacious lob from the centre circle that went over Heaton and into the net. Mason, however, blew for a Villa free kick and carded Westwood for kicking the ball away, something he’d failed to do with petulant Villa players throughout the afternoon.

Not once did I think we were in trouble and not once did I think Villa would score again, but they did when Egyptian Mahmoud Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan (better known simply as Trézéguet) crossed beyond the far post from the right for McGinn to fire home off Pope.

Were we beaten? We were only behind for 92 seconds and this time it was the other full back Lowton providing the assist. Hendrick found Wood in the centre and the striker in turn played the ball out to Lowton before making his way into the box. No one picked him up and he headed home Lowton’s cross through the legs of the helpless Heaton.

We had to defend some late pressure from Villa, often brought about by Mason decisions, as we played an extra eight minutes of stoppage time, but the last act of the day was to see Pope nonchalantly catch a high ball into the box as that final whistle blew.

Don’t be fooled by the nonsense from Dean Smith, the Villa manager. We weren’t at our best but deserved this point. He thought they were better than us but he must not have been watching the way they defend. They have some good players; El Ghazi for one and McGinn undoubtedly, even Jack Grealish if he didn’t want it to be all about him, but this Villa team will concede too many goals and I think that will keep them in trouble.

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As for us, another away point is gratefully received. Maybe we could do with getting a clean sheet or two away from home but we are now beginning to find scoring goals in the Premier League a little bit easier than we used to; yesterday took our total number of Premier League goals to 200, the last 100 coming in 94 games.

The Burnley fans celebrated at the end as the players came over. It was, to some extent, like Brighton. When you get a point away from home and you are the team who have got that equaliser it does seem like a win.

As the Burnley fans turned to go to the dressing room, there was one final opportunity to thank Tom Heaton for his six years at the Turf. This time, as Tom came over to applaud the fans, those Burnley fans reciprocated with huge, warm applause and chants of HEATON and rightly so. He’s been so much a big part of what our club has achieved in the last few years.

Crowds of over 40,000 can bring traffic problems and it was a bit difficult getting away, but once we’d got moving it was a trouble free journey home and the point was deposited at Turf Moor.

The teams were;

Aston Villa: Tom Heaton, Frederic Guilbert, Björn Engels, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett (Neil Taylor 62), Marvelous Nakamba, John McGinn, Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane, Anwar El Ghazi (Trézéguet 70), Wesley (Keinan Davis 88). Subs not used: Jed Steer, Douglas Luiz, Ezri Konsa, Jota.
Yellow Card: Trézéguet.

Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Erik Pieters, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork (Jay Rodriguez ht), Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes (Robbie Brady 83), Chris Wood. Subs not used: Joe Hart, Phil Bardsley, Ben Gibson, Aaron Lennon, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson.
Yellow Cards: Ashley Barnes, James Tarkowski, Ashley Westwood, Jay Rodriguez.

Referee: Lee Mason (Bolton).

Attendance: 41, 546.

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