For all the “will he, won’t he?” surrounding England’s World Cup forwards, Danny Ings’s name was not even mentioned in passing. Rightly so; for most of his short-ish Aston Villa career, Ings has dipped well below the expectations attached to his £25m price tag.
His 34 goals in 67 top-flight appearances at Southampton led to the transfer; Holte End heroism and a push for tournament football would have been the plan. It has transpired quite differently. With the latter ambition surely gone, Villa must be his priority.
Afternoons such as this, when his double either side of half-time helped set up a come-from-behind victory, will help. But for an illness that saw Ollie Watkins miss out entirely, Ings would have begun on the bench. Instead, for the first time this season Villa’s travelling supporters celebrated victory on the road. They sang “Yippee-i-a” merrily as Unai Emery’s side shook off Alexis Mac Allister’s early opener to give the new manager wins in his first two league games.
Even with the success Brighton enjoyed under Graham Potter, there were frequently empty pockets of seats at the Amex. At times, particularly for much of last season, value for money was arguably poor. But it already feels as if Roberto De Zerbi brings with him a different brand, an organised chaos. They will score more, they will concede more, and he will orchestrate it energetically from within – and frequently from outside – his technical area.
So while defeat will hurt, Brighton should take heart in the fact that as the bugles sounded to mark Remembrance Sunday, there was not a seat to be had. A good thing too; they were ahead within a minute.
In Villa’s Carabao Cup defeat at Old Trafford on Thursday, much blame was laid, quite literally, at Robin Olsen’s feet. With Emiliano Martínez returning, playing out from the back was not expected to be problematic.
But while he and Douglas Luiz may squabble over the apportionment of blame, the fact is the latter did not expect to receive it short from Martínez on the edge of the area in the first place, and then was unaware that Mac Allister was breathing down his neck. He picked Douglas Luiz’s pocket (VAR took the view legally) and planted the ball past Martínez.
Having started like possessed men last week, Villa struggled for possession entirely early on. But 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.
Despite levelling, there remained a nervousness to Villa’s back line. Further forward they looked more assured, but Emery’s play-from-the-back philosophy will take some settling into. Tyrone Mings was shaky, never more so than when spun 360 degrees by Solly March; a manhandling earned Mings a booking.
Brighton continued to dance forward, to switch play rapidly, to try out corner routines. But for all the aesthetic pleasure, goalmouth action was limited.
The scoreline reversal was completed soon after the break. Matty Cash raced to the byline and his cross was met by a diving Buendía, whose header crashed against a post. Danger averted? Well, no, Brighton failed to clear and, would you believe it, there was redemption of a type for Douglas Luiz. For this time it was Mac Allister dallying on the edge of the area and Douglas Luiz getting his boot in. Possession fell to Ings, who finished via Colwill’s back leg.
Brighton roared vociferously for a penalty of their own when, with 20 minutes left, Lucas Digne was slow to clear. March – a livewire throughout – appeared from nowhere and got a toe on the ball, and Digne’s sweeping left foot appeared to wipe him out. VAR looked but did not tell Chris Kavanagh to have another look; De Zerbi was, not for the first time in the afternoon, animated.
It became edgy. Brighton pushed; Villa sat ever deeper. Out came the dark arts, the visitors breaking play with a series of cynical fouls. Just before eight minutes of added time, 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.