Aston Villa 2-1 West Brom: Championship play-off semi-final, first leg – as it happened

Conor Hourihane and Tammy Abraham turned this first leg around in Villa’s favour, as Baggies scorer Dwight Gayle was sent packing for two yellow cards.

Nick Miller was our man at Villa Park. His report has landed. Enjoy, enjoy. Thanks for reading this MBM, and see you for the big Derby-Leeds stramash in a couple of hours!

James Shan’s turn. “I thought we were very very good. I thought we frustrated them for long parts of the game. It was a shot from distance and a penalty. We frustrated them. But we could have been a bit more patient in possession. I’ve looked back at the decision to send off Gayle. It’s not one that I agree with, and I think we were hard done by massively. We’ve got 90 minutes still to play, and our approach will be very different, because we need to win the game. I’m sure our crowd will get behind us and give us a big lift.”

Dean Smith talks. “I think we deserved to win the game. I thought Albion came to sit behind the ball and slow the game down, and take their time over throw-ins and goal kicks. We had to try to open them up. We found it difficult, we were nowhere near our best but we found a way to win. It took a good strike to open them up. I don’t think West Brom will play like that at the Hawthorns on Tuesday!”

Aston Villa fans celebrate.
Aston Villa fans celebrate. Photograph: Ryan Browne/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock


That’s the first time this season West Brom have lost a match having taken the lead. What a time to do it! It all unravelled quicksmart: they spurned a fine opportunity to make it 2-0, then immediately conceded twice. Losing their most potent attacker Dwight Gayle to a second yellow card, and having a very decent penalty shout ignored, put the tin lid on it. Credit to Villa for turning up the heat in the second half, and to Conor Hourihane for scoring a pearler. Could their three-year Premier League exile be coming to an end?

FULL TIME: Aston Villa 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

It all went wrong for West Brom in short order, and Aston Villa take a lead into the second leg at the Hawthorns.

90 min +6: Abraham’s quick feet on the edge of the box nearly set up Kodjia. Then Grealish slips a pass down the right channel. Green has a bash that’s deflected over the bar. The resulting corner comes to nothing. Villa so close to a third goal that would put Villa in control of this tie.

90 min +4: Hourihane tries to pass the ball into the bottom right from the edge of the box. A tame effort that’s deflected away from danger. West Brom hanging on.

90 min +3: It’s all Villa now, as they probe in pursuit of the third goal that would sicken West Brom.

90 min +1: But there’s plenty of it left. Seven minutes! El Ghazi can’t continue, and he’s replaced by Kodjia.

90 min: El Ghazi and Mings are both on the turf getting treatment. Villa’s turn to run the clock down.


88 min: Morrison is sent scampering down the right by Murphy’s cute flick. Morrison whips low into the box. Gayle slides in, hoping to poke home, but clatters into Steer instead. It didn’t look malicious ... but it was clumsy, and the referee has no option but to show a second yellow and then the red.

Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion challenges goalkeeper Jed Steer of Aston Villa which resulted in him receiving a red card.
Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion challenges Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images
Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion reacts as he receives a red card following a challenge on goalkeeper Jed Steer.
Gayle reacts as he receives a red card following a challenge on Steer. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images


86 min: Space for Rodriguez down the left. He sprays a pass wide right to ... absolutely nobody.

84 min: Johansen goes down, and can’t continue. He’s replaced by Morrison.

82 min: Gayle flings a throw into the mixer from the left. Some head tennis. Then Abraham clatters into Holgate when contesting a high ball. That’s surely a penalty, but the referee doesn’t give it! Villa have swerved one there.

80 min: How costly Gayle’s loose pass towards Murphy looks now. One good ball there, and it most likely would have been 2-0 to the Baggies. But now look!

GOAL! Aston Villa 2-1 West Bromwich Albion (Abraham 79 pen)

One of the coolest penalty kicks you’ll see. Abraham picks his spot, the bottom right, and tucks it right into the corner, having sent Johnstone the other way. What a turnaround!

Tammy Abraham dispatches his penalty with aplomb to give Aston Villa the lead.
Tammy Abraham dispatches his penalty with aplomb to give Aston Villa the lead. Photograph: Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images


Penalty for Aston Villa!

78 min: The free kick is poor, but only half cleared. Grealish dribbles back into the box from the right, and is clipped by Gibbs, who has had a nightmare 60 seconds. Penalty kick, no question.

77 min: Gibbs is booked for wafting a hand into the face of Green. And this is a free kick out on the right. West Brom suddenly under serious pressure.

GOAL! Aston Villa 1-1 West Bromwich Albion (Hourihane 75)

What a strike this is! Grealish dribbles up and down the inside-right channel. Then he pulls the ball back to Hourihane, who sends a first-time heat-seeker into the top left! Johnstone had no chance, and Villa Park finds its voice once again!

Conor Hourihane of Aston Villa scores a goal to make it 1-1.
Conor Hourihane of Aston Villa scores a goal to make it 1-1. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images


74 min: McGinn shoots from distance. The ball deflects out for a corner on the right. Grealish takes. Tuanzebe tries to flick a header goalwards but can’t get it on target. West Brom break, Hegazi finding Gayle in space down the left. There’s a simple pass on back inside to release Murphy, but Gayle underhits it, allowing Mings to divert the ball away for a corner. Nothing comes of the set piece. A waste.

72 min: West Brom win a corner down the right. Brunt takes long. Bartley wins a header at the far post, sending the ball back across goal and out for a goal kick. Villa didn’t deal with that particularly well.

70 min: Gayle goes down again, having taken the swinging arm of Hourihane in the face. He doesn’t get much sympathy from the home crowd, who are fairly convinced that he’s wasting more time. But to be fair, he did take a whack in the grid, albeit accidentally.

69 min: The game goes a bit scrappy as the new men find their feet.

67 min: Changes ahoy! West Brom replace Phillips with Murphy, then Villa make a double substitution: Hourihane and Green on, Whelan and Adomah off.

65 min: This has suddenly become quite feisty. Johansen barges into Abraham, who reacts in a robust manner. Then Gayle goes down, seemingly with cramp. The ref runs over and tells him to get up. He’s testing the ref’s patience.

63 min: Gayle clunks into Grealish. A garden-variety foul, but Dean Smith springs off the Villa bench to complain. The ref’s not interested in brandishing a second yellow, though.

62 min: Another throw for West Brom. Gayle once again faffs around, and is booked. He shakes his head in pantomime confusion, but will know full well that he’d already been warned about time-wasting.

60 min: El Ghazi drops a shoulder to glide in from the left, but having made space sends his shot from distance well over the bar.

59 min: Grealish jigs across the face of the West Brom box, right to left, and eventually pulls the trigger, sending a shot towards the bottom left. The ball takes a deflection en route, but Johnstone handles well nonetheless.

57 min: West Brom take their own sweet time over a throw. The ref tells Gayle to get a wriggle on. Gayle eventually flings the ball into the box, Bartley’s presence earning a corner for the Baggies. The set piece leads to some head tennis, Bartley and Brunt both lurking with intent. But Villa eventually get round to clearing their lines.

55 min: El Ghazi loops a cross in from the right. Abraham gets the jump on Bartley, but flicks his header, intended for the top left, high and wide. Villa are beginning to ask some questions at last.

53 min: The corner leads to some end-to-end wildness. First up, West Brom clear and counter, Gayle nearly latching onto a long punt. Steer comes out of his area to head clear. Then back up the other end, Whelan has a whack from distance, eager to atone for his mistake that led to the goal. The shot’s blocked. But the home fans sense their team have upped their game since the restart, and holler accordingly.

52 min: Abraham turns on the jets and wheechs past Hegazi down the right. He reaches the byline and makes it into the area, then shoots low for the bottom right. Johnstone turns it round the post for a corner.

50 min: Adomah dribbles down the right and crosses. Brunt is right next to him, and the ball hits him on the elbow. Villa scream for a penalty, but they’re never getting that one.

49 min: To Bartley’s relief, the corner comes to nought. The ball’s pulled back to McGinn, who fires high into the Holte End.

48 min: Grealish curls it long. Bartley should leave it to drift harmlessly out of play, but heads behind to concede a corner. No shout.

47 min: Villa stroke it about for a bit. Hegazi gets fed up and slides in on Adomah, and that’s a booking. A free kick out on the right, too, and a chance to load the box.

Here we go, then ... for your leisure and pleasure ... the second half! Villa get the ball rolling again. West Brom have made a change, Craig Dawson having failed to recover from the knock he took late in the first half. Tyrone Mears comes on in his place.

Half-time entertainment. Another big day tomorrow, huh.

HALF TIME: Aston Villa 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

West Brom have scored one. They’ve hit the bar. They look very comfortable at the back. Villa will be glad of the opportunity to think up some new ideas.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has got some work to do at half-time.
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has got some work to do at half-time. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA


45 min +3: Gayle tries to turn Tuanzebe, the ball having been launched long. He falls and claims a free kick, but the referee’s not interested. Just as well for Villa, because Tuanzebe was the last man.

45 min +2: Dawson’s back on. Mings has a belt from 25 yards; it’s easily snaffled by Johnstone.

45 min: Dawson’s chatting to the physio, and he’s preparing to come back on. There will be five added minutes.

44 min: He might have taken a smack in the mouth, because as he’s escorted off the pitch, looking fairly dazed it must be said, he’s gingerly probing his gums.

43 min: Dawson goes down. He was nowhere near the play, so not sure what happened. He’s getting some treatment, and looks fairly queasy.

41 min: And now a period of patient West Brom passing further frustrates the home side.

39 min: West Brom are holding their shape well. Villa can’t find a way through. The hosts have had plenty of possession, but they’re doing very little with it. Villa Park has fallen very quiet now as a result.

37 min: El Ghazi has been bright. Another run down the left. He whips in a great cross, with Adomah and Abraham both lurking, but Hegazi eyebrows the ball away just in time. A fine last-ditch header.

35 min: One corner leads to another. The second leads to nothing.

34 min: Grealish whips it in, and fails to beat the first man. Brunt heads clear. Then West Brom are breaking three on three! Phillips has two opportunities to send Gayle clear down the inside-right channel, but can’t find the pass. He settles for a corner instead.

33 min: Phillips takes an air swipe at an attempted clearance, and suddenly McGinn’s putting Holgate under pressure down the left. Holgate bundles his man over, and is booked for his trouble. A free kick, just to the left of the West Brom box.

31 min: Hegazi passes long. Gayle brings the ball down on the edge of the Villa box, then flicks a pass towards Rodriguez on the left. Rodriguez goes for the first-time spectacular, and shanks it miles wide right, and high to boot. A second goal for the Baggies would really put the cat among the pigeons here.

29 min: McGinn goes on a jink down the inside-left channel. He thinks about shooting a couple of times. When he eventually does, the ball’s deflected out for a corner. From the set piece, Grealish dances in from the left and larrups a wild shot over the bar.

28 min: Elmohamady wins a corner down the right. McGinn takes it short towards Grealish, but Gayle is onto it like a flash and hooks clear. What a waste.

26 min: Phillips goes flying in on McGinn, out on the Villa left. He doesn’t make contact, which is just as well. The ref could easily book him for that, but settles for a lecture instead. No more chances, I’ll be bound.

24 min: El Ghazi goes on a blistering run down the left. He steams past a couple of opponents, but as he enters the box he’s shepherded out of play by Bartley, who stayed on his shoulder and didn’t make any sort of challenge that would have resulted in a penalty. Goal kick. That was nearly a hell of a solo goal, though.

Aston Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi (right) and West Bromwich Albion’s Stefan Johansen battle for the ball.
Aston Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi (right) and West Bromwich Albion’s Stefan Johansen battle for the ball. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA


22 min: It’s fair to say that goal has quietened the home crowd quite a bit. And the Villa passes suddenly aren’t sticking, some anxiety entering their play. It’s all a bit scrappy right now.

20 min: An ominous stat for Villa: West Brom have won 17 of the 21 games in which they’ve taken the lead this season, and drawn the other four.

18 min: Villa respond immediately, Grealish running at the West Brom defence. Rodriguez tackles him hard and fair. The ball breaks to El Ghazi, who shoots for the bottom left from the edge of the box. Johnstone gathers well, the ball having taken a deflection en route.

GOAL! Aston Villa 0-1 WBA (Gayle 16)

Grealish passes backwards to Whelan, who takes a fresh-air prod at the ball. Gayle springs into action and races off with it. He bears down on goal and lashes a shot into the bottom right. Steer had no chance. First blood to the Albion!

Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion scores his team’s first goa.
Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion scores his team’s first goa. Photograph: Paul Harding/Getty Images


15 min: This is great fun. Adomah crosses from the right. Abraham spectacularly bicycle kicks over the bar. And then ...

14 min: The free kick’s hoicked into the mixer. Mings and Hegazi tussle and fall over. Villa Park claims a penalty but Mings doesn’t. No penalty.

13 min: West Brom are beginning to work their way into the match. They win a corner out on the left. Some head tennis in the box. But then it’s Villa’s turn to launch a counter. Grealish dribbles up the park and draws a foul. A free kick and a chance to load the West Brom box.

11 min: Gayle is fouled by Tuanzebe, 30 yards out. The free kick causes mild bedlam in the Villa box, Steer flapping, Mings hacking out for a throw. Then the ball’s worked to Rodriguez just outside the box. Rodriguez opens his body and shapes a fine shot towards the top right. It’s heading in, but Steer gets a fingernail to it and deflects the ball onto the bar! Gayle tries to poke the rebound home, but fails, and he’s flagged offside anyway. Great football all round!

Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion is felled by Axel Tuanzebe of Aston Villa.
Dwight Gayle of West Bromwich Albion is felled by Axel Tuanzebe of Aston Villa. Photograph: Adam Fradgley - AMA/WBA FC via Getty Images


9 min: Adomah sashays in from the right and attempts a curler towards the top left. The ball finds the top left of the stand behind the goal.

8 min: The corner’s not up to much, and West Brom are quickly flooding up the other end on the counter. Phillips skedaddles down the right but the move peters out as Grealish tracks back and sticks to him like glue. A bright, open start to this match.

7 min: El Ghazi zips past Holgate with great ease down the left. His cross is headed away by Brunt, but Grealish and Elmohamady combine down the other flank to win another corner.

5 min: Villa have started brightly. McGinn, deep on the left, sprays a diagonal pass towards Adomah, cutting in from the other flank. Adomah can only shank wide from a tight angle, and the flag goes up for offside anyway.

4 min: Quickly taken corners are this week’s thing. This one’s slipped cheekily to Grealish, who stands one up for Whelan. The resulting header flies over the bar. That was a chance, because West Brom were snoozing like Barcelona there.

3 min: Now Bartley clatters Abraham, and this is a free kick in West Brom territory. The set piece is worked out wide left to Taylor, who wins the first corner of the game.

2 min: Grealish Gascoignes his way down the middle of the park and is unceremoniously barged to the ground by Johansen. A statement challenge is probably the best way to describe it.

And we’re off! The visitors get the party started, like the best guests do. The ball’s launched long. It’s sent straight back upfield. Villa Park is bouncing. It’s the play-offs!

The teams are out! A fantastic atmosphere at Villa Park, just as you’d expect for a promotion play-off, and a West Midlands derby. We’ll be off in a minute, but first a word from Tom Levesley, who is lost in nostalgic reverie: “It’s a classic kit alright. Here’s me modelling it with the classic golf trouser and afro combo. Not sure why Laurie didn’t pick this look.”

The 1978 West Brom shirt. Looks great with golf slacks.
The 1978 West Brom shirt. Looks great with golf slacks. Photograph: Tom Levesley

James Shan praises the returning Chris Brunt and Matty Phillips. “Their level of experience is going to be key today, the quality both players provide for us. Chris has been a key player, he offers a lot, and Matty gives us so much going forward. And both players are key to our set-play delivery as well.”

Dean Smith speaks to Sky. “It’s a different Aston Villa now to the one that West Brom played in February. We’re in a really good run of form. Confidence is high but we know this is a tough game today. The players are ready and there’s a freshness about them. There’s certainly a lot of belief as well.”

Kit watch. A classic look to this match today. Victorian aristocrats Villa will sport their famous claret and blue ...

Ken McNaught upon winning the 1983 Super Cup.
Ken McNaught upon winning the 1983 Super Cup. Photograph: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock

... while West Brom will be decked out in their equally gorgeous navy and white stripes, a kit honed to perfection during the sexy Seventies.

Laurie Cunningham at Molineux in 1978.
Laurie Cunningham at Molineux in 1978. Photograph: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock

Villa power up after taking it easy in the final match of the regular season against Norwich. Ahmed Elmohamady, Tyrone Mings, John McGinn, Anwar El Ghazi, Tammy Abraham and captain Jack Grealish return to the starting XI.

The Baggies make two changes to the team that lost at Derby on the final day. Chris Brunt and Matty Phillips are back, replacing Jacob Murphy and Rekeem Harper.

The teams

Aston Villa: Steer, Elmohamady, Tuanzebe, Mings, Taylor, Whelan, Adomah, McGinn, Grealish, El Ghazi, Abraham.
Subs: Hourihane, Jedinak, Davis, Green, Kodjia, Kalinic, Hause.

WBA: Johnstone, Dawson, Bartley, Hegazi, Holgate, Brunt, Johansen, Gibbs, Phillips, Rodriguez, Gayle.
Subs: Morrison, Mears, Townsend, Montero, Bond, Field, Murphy.

Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).



West Bromwich Albion had the better of this particular fixture back in February. Goals from Hal-Robson-Kanu and Jay Rodriguez sealed a 2-0 win for Darren Moore’s side. Villa didn’t look much like promotion prospects back then.

But then they embarked on a spectacular run as Dean Smith’s work started to bear fruit. A draw at Stoke was followed by ten wins on the bounce, a sequence that pretty much guaranteed a play-off spot. West Brom meanwhile got shot of Moore and replaced him with caretaker James Shan, to no great artistic improvement, though the results have kept ticking over.

Villa therefore go into this play-off semi-final first leg as favourites. But they’ve not beaten the Baggies since 2015, and are arguably under a bit more pressure having spent three seasons out of the Premier League, West Brom only losing their top-flight status last time round. And it’s a West Midlands derby, so anything could happen. An entertaining 90 minutes of fun and frolics await us. It’s on!

Kick off: 12.30pm BST.