For all the “will he, won’t he” surrounding England’s World Cup forwards, Danny Ings’s name was not even mentioned in passing. With faltering form meaning he has fallen well below the international radar, Holte End heroism must now be the aim. Afternoons such as this, when Ings’s double either side of half-time led to a come-from-behind victory, will certainly help.
But for an illness that ruled out Ollie Watkins, Ings would have begun on the bench. Instead, his contribution meant Villa’s travelling supporters could sing “Yippee-i-a” merrily, having seen Alexis Mac Allister’s early opener overturned. “Today we were talking about the best position for Ings,” said Unai Emery of the man yet to live up to his £25m price tag. “He needs to be between the centre-backs, with players to assist him. The others understood that, and it was a very good match for him. His goals were very important.”
Indeed, they ensured a first Villa away victory of the season, and gave Emery wins in his first two league games. “The six points have given us confidence,” he said. “We can look up, and we can stay calm for the next few weeks. Our challenge now is to improve.”
For Brighton, in defeat there was still entertainment. Under Graham Potter, there were frequently empty pockets of seats at the Amex. At times, value for money was poor. But Roberto De Zerbi has already brought a zest for organised chaos. They will score more, they will concede more, and the Italian will orchestrate it all energetically from within (and frequently from outside) his technical area.
Brighton should be heartened by the fact their model seems to be holding firm under strain, by heading into the break seventh, and by there not being a spare chair going. “I don’t think we deserved to lose,” said De Zerbi. “I am not happy with this result but I’m happy because this has been a very important period. I said ‘thanks’ to my players after the game. They have been fantastic with me and my staff. I want them to restart the season with the same energy, the same passion and attitude.”
Brighton were ahead within a minute. Douglas Luiz and Emiliano Martínez may squabble over blameworthiness, but the fact remains the former was unaware that Mac Allister was breathing down his neck when he received the ball on the edge of the area. Douglas Luiz’s pocket was picked – VAR took the view legally – and Mac Allister finished.
Brighton were buoyed, dancing forward, switching play rapidly, working through their set-piece playbook. But for all the aesthetic pleasure, goalmouth action was limited. Villa went from starting last weekend like men possessed, to struggling for possession entirely early on. And there remained a nervousness to their backline throughout; Emery’s philosophy will take some settling into. Tyrone Mings was shaky, never more so than when earning a booking having been spun 360 degrees by Solly March.
But they were more assured when on the front foot, levelling when Emi Buendía’s sumptuous through ball split Levi Colwill – making his full league debut – and Lewis Dunk. John McGinn reached it first; Dunk’s lunge was cumbersome; Ings lashed the penalty down the middle.
Soon after the break, Ings completed the reversal. Buendía’s diving header had crashed against a post, giving Brighton a potential reprieve. But they failed to clear and, would you believe it, there was redemption of a type for Douglas Luiz; this time Mac Allister dallied on the edge of the area, Douglas Luiz got his boot in, and Ings finished.
Brighton would later roar vociferously for a penalty of their own when Lucas Digne’s attempted clearance also appeared to involve wiping out March. VAR reviewed it but did not ask Chris Kavanagh to have another look. De Zerbi refrained from commenting specifically, other than to suggest everyone watch both penalties again.
Emery then broke out the dark arts, his side sitting deep and breaking up play with a series of cynical fouls. That drew De Zerbi’s ire: “It is not a big problem to lose a game but I would like to play 90 minutes not 60 minutes.” Before eight minutes of injury time began, Colwill, unmarked, headed Mac Allister’s whipped cross glaringly wide. And then it was over. What fun it was. Oh, and on World Cup watch, no one got injured.