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Ashley Westwood scored a late equaliser as Aston Villa came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at West Bromwich Albion in the Barclays Premier League.
The home side established a healthy lead inside 11 minutes through a terrific brace from Shane Long. The 26-year-old broke the deadlock with a superb solo effort, before doubling his tally with a delightful chip over Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Karim El Ahmadi pulled one back for the visitors midway through the second half, before Westwood levelled matters with his first goal for the club, meaning the last four ties between the clubs have ended all-square.
Villa were unchanged from the side who beat Cardiff City 2-0 last time out, while Goran Popov replaced Liam Ridgewell for West Brom to make his first Barclays Premier League start of the season.
West Brom went ahead through a piece of individual brilliance from Long in the third minute. The Republic of Ireland forward latched on to a Chris Brunt pass from deep, took the ball around Nathan Baker with a wonderful first touch on the edge of the penalty area and side-footed beyond Brad Guzan for his second goal in as many matches.
Paul Lambert’s men almost hit back instantly as Aleksandar Tonev’s powerful strike was saved by Boaz Myhill, who got down well to his right.
Long then got his second, capitalising on a misplaced pass by Leandro Bacuna to take the ball beyond Baker again and dink a sublime finish over the helpless Guzan and into the back of the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Stephane Sessegnon could have made it three eight minutes later, but diverted wide of the left post from a Morgan Amalfitano cross with the goal gaping. Libor Kozak clipped the crossbar at the other end in the 25th minute, receiving the ball from a Christian Benteke header before pulling off a sweet strike on the half-volley. Long was in inspired form and charged through the Villa defence on the half-hour before firing his effort straight at Guzan from 18 yards.
After the break, Sessegnon missed a second glaring opportunity in the 64th minute, blazing over the crossbar from eight yards out. Villa got themselves right back into the tie three minutes later when El Ahmadi, one member of a triple substitution by Paul Lambert, got his boot on the end of a header by Andreas Weimann, another replacement, to lift the ball over Myhill.
Westwood completed the Villa fightback 14 minutes from time, receiving the ball from a loose defensive header and firing a thunderbolt into the bottom right-hand corner.
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke: “When you're leading comfortably 2-0 midway through the second half, you feel you should go on and get three points. Villa made a few changes and the energy of the substitutes seemed to unsettle us. We gave away a bad goal and that gave Villa a bit of momentum in the game, and they took advantage of it.
"We missed one clear-cut chance to make it 3-0, and if it goes 3-0 at that stage, it's probably over, although in a local derby you never know. We knew at half-time that the next goal was going to be crucial. We had a similar situation last year in the game when we were the team chasing the game, and sometimes when you're chasing the game from 2-0 down, you take risks and you get a little bit of luck, and Villa fought hard for their luck.
"At the moment, the feeling is more disappointment than anything else. It was a game we could get three points from. I've touched on it a couple of times this season that I feel we're drawing too many games, and we have to turn those draws into wins. But there are some positives, especially from the first half where we controlled the game."
"Shane [Long] has been working hard for that type of performance. He's in a good moment. He has been on a good run of form and hopefully he can keep it going."
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: “The second half we were fantastic, terrific and were really resolute. We were down 2-0 in 10 minutes and we were thinking that we need to hang in to half-time and get them back in. But second half we were outstanding.
"I don't think anybody can label our team as having a lack of character and to come back in a derby game, especially here with the atmosphere, and to do it in the way they've done it, I've nothing but praise for them."
"We spoke about them [substitutions at half-time] and we thought we had to get them on pretty quickly, but we were going to wait a bit longer. We thought we needed a goal and the three of them made a huge contribution. They have been big players and to lose them [to injury] at the time we did was a bit of blow. Full credit to them. They only started to train on Friday, they came on and they were outstanding."
"We've just got to keep growing the football club. We've only been here 15, 16 months and we had to strip it right back as everybody knows. People were criticising us for doing certain things, but we have strong beliefs and stuck with it, and hopefully now people are starting to see we've got a really good side. They've got great energy, but they'll grow and, if we can keep them for a few years longer, and keep the club growing, then we'll do alright."
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