Hands up all of you who expected this to be a fun game. Yep, that's what I thought. Aston Villa have been absolutely abject since their win at Anfield, and although West Bromwich Albion's form has declined of late, they still should have been more than good enough to dispatch their guests with a minimum of fuss.
Happily, we got a football game rather than a rout, a thoroughly entertaining 2-2 draw.
Credit Christian Benteke for that one. In the 12th minute, with the match looking like it would consist of the hosts dominating while Paul Lambert's side had a collective meltdown*, the Belgian turned Villa's first attack into a goal with a phenomenal strike.
*Not helped by Nathan Baker going off five minutes in with a hamstring injury.
Words aren't going to do this one justice, so I'll just steal 7500 to Holte's .gif of the shot:
Benteke's opener changed the complexion of the match completely. Villa now believed that they could win, and they started playing like it. Charles N'Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor were standouts, and the former looked as though he'd saved up all of the effort he'd refused to put in this season for this match.
It came as no surprise at all when the visitors doubled their lead, with Agbonlahor slotting past Ben Foster following a superb through-ball from N'Zogbia, and they really should have made it three with the number of chances they were generating.
Their profligacy returned to haunt them in the second half. The hitherto anonymous Romelu Lukaku recevied the ball in the six-yard box, and with his back to goal opted to pick out the onrushing Chris Brunt. The midfielder made no mistake in blasting past Brad Guzan to make it 2-1 in the 49th minute.
And once West Bom had scored it didn't look as though Villa were going to be able to hold on. The visitors were pushed steadily back towards their own goal and suffered several close calls before their defence finally broke once again. Benteke was the culprit, allowing Gareth McAuley free on a corner to set up Peter Odemwingie for the 84th minute equaliser.
Now the visitors needed to attack again, but there wasn't much time left -- and doing so opened their back line for the Baggie's lightning raids forwards. Any outcome looked like a realistic possibility, especially with four minutes of injury time. Both teams had to defend like maniacs in the final stages, but ultimately neither could find the net again. One would suspect that they'll each be ok with the point in the end.