Sublime Long on double as Villa steal share of spoils
West Brom 2 Aston Villa 2
Facing ignominy in the local derby, Paul Lambert made a triple substitution just before the hour mark that changed this game and rescued him from some searching questions and painful headlines.
On came Gabby Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph and finally Villa resembled a real force in this compelling match.
Lambert had had to act. West Brom were leading 2-0 and should have been over the horizon. Shane Long was so good, almost unplayable, scoring two good goals, the first full of power, the second full of deftness.
Villa were shell-shocked, lacking dynamism and width. But Lambert's changes gave Villa shape and belief.
Karim El Ahmadi pulled one back and then Ashley Westwood equalised with his first goal for Villa, a superb strike from 25 yards. It did beg the question over why Lambert had not started with the likes of Agbonlahor.
Within 15 minutes the West Brom fans had been chanting "2-0 to the smaller club", an ironic critique of Lambert's comments about Villa's greater history.
They were also singing the praises of Long, who boosted his claims for a new, improved new contract by terrorising Villa's yielding defence, scoring twice early on. To think West Brom almost sold him to Hull City.
Long's first goal came within three minutes via a majestic first touch, controlling Chris Brunt's perfect long ball. His touch did more than kill the ball's momentum; it totally wrong-footed Nathan Baker.
The space created, Long wasted no time in powering a left-footed shot past Brad Guzan. There were echoes of Alan Shearer in his no-nonsense, muscular pomp in the speed and power of the goal.
Villa's defending was culpable, particularly Baker. Within eight minutes it was Leandro Bacuna erring, the right-back sending a mad cross-field ball that Long picked off. The Tipperary man avoided Baker again. If Long's first touch for his opener had West Brom fans singing, his exquisite finishing touch for his second took their breath away. Calmly, unerringly, Long dinked the ball over Guzan.
Villa's defence was so poor that it was a minor miracle that they reached half-time with no further damage. West Brom could easily have scored more.
Long continued to scare the life out of a Villa defence that has been one of the club's stronger points this season. and he might have completed his hat-trick before Villa fought back. (© Daily Telegraph, London)