Last-gasp Benteke gives Villa a lifeline
Aston Villa 2 West Brom 1
They came running back from the concourses and crowded back into the stands - it had been so long since Aston Villa had won a league game that there was not a home supporter who wanted to miss the moment when Christian Benteke slotted in the 93rd-minute penalty that won this match.
It was a marvellous way to win a relegation battle that Villa had been told they could not afford to lose and, when Benteke's penalty hit the net it was fair to say that the home bench, excitable at the best of times, went wild. Tony Parks, the new goalkeepers' coach, picked up Tim Sherwood, while in the Holte End they finally remembered what winning felt like.
If Villa do survive in the Premier League this season, and that still remains in considerable doubt, then this last-minute win will surely be remembered as the occasion when the club roused itself and decided to fight back.
The first victory in the Premier League since December 7, the end of a run of seven straight defeats in the league - and for Sherwood it was his first win of his new reign.
It must have meant that much more because his team had dominated the first half and taken the lead through Gabby Agbonlahor before then conspiring to throw much of it away.
If Villa had played all season as well as they did in the first half then there would be no question of a relegation battle. They looked a long way from a team that had lost their previous seven league games and on the touchline their manager did all but pull on a pair of boots and name himself in the starting XI.
It did not take long to work out that this Villa side had decided that they were not going down without a fight this time. The team had been changed again with Scott Sinclair dropped to the bench, and it felt like Sherwood had found a better balance.
There were no apologies for going long when the opportunity presented itself, and Benteke was always available to head the ball on for the running of Agbonlahor.
There were many fine performances in the Villa first half, not least Alan Hutton, Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood, but it was Agbonlahor, relieved of the captaincy by Sherwood, who shone the brightest.
The goal was created by a long clearance from Brad Guzan that Benteke nodded down into the path of Agbonlahor. His strength and acceleration have never been in doubt - it is often more a case of whether he is up for the challenge and he most certainly was on this occasion.
It had a transformative effect on the Villa crowd, and Sherwood went halfway down the touchline in celebration.
It was hard to believe that West Bromwich would be as poor after the break as they had been before it, and although it took them 10 minutes of the second half to find their feet they did at last come into the game.
Even so, their equaliser on 66 minutes was scarcely what they deserved and proved yet another galling blow for Villa during this misadventure of a season they are going through.
It came from a corner, whipped to the back post by Chris Brunt where Joleon Lescott nodded the ball back across goal and Berahino reacted first to head it in from close range.
Villa went for it in astonishing ending. Jack Grealish embodied their ambition, running at Albion's defence, before Matthew Lowton was clearly brought down by Foster, who endured a poor match.
Benteke took responsibility for the penalty, placing it calmly on the spot, stepping back, running in, and then so coolly stroking it low past the wrong-footed Foster.
The Holte End dissolved into delight. All around fans were running up and down the stairs, hugging each other as the Albion supporters glowered. (© Independent News Service.)