West Brom 2 Aston Villa 2: Hand of Rod shoves Anwar El Ghazi off centre stage

The Albion striker’s controversial stoppage time leveller cancelled out an earlier rocket from Anwar El Ghazi, which had looked like proving the pivotal moment of a clash between the Championship’s two deadliest attacks which, while not delivering the kind of fantastical scoreline some were predicting, had no shortage of drama.

It was a goal which put El Ghazi centre stage, until Rodriguez unceremoniously barged him off it at the death.

El Ghazi’s effort had looked like overshadowing some fine performances from other protagonists, including Harvey Barnes, Dwight Gayle, the relentless John McGinn and Gareth Barry, who for the first two-thirds of the contest rolled back the years against his former club.

This was the first time the rivals had met in nearly three years and supporters in the divided Smethwick End renewed acquaintances prior to kick-off, before the noise of The Liquidator had the home fans roaring in the moments before the first whistle.

There was a nervousness in the energy and in the early stages it transmitted itself to the players, Craig Dawson sending an intended crossfield ball for Barnes several yards over the winger’s head, with McGinn quickly returning the favour, giving El Ghazi no chance of catching a through pass.

Once things had settled down, the latter pair would go on to be among Villa’s best performers.

El Ghazi, in only his second start since September, continued the transformation from nervous novice to confident Championship performer.

True, there was no shortage of fortune in his goal, which took two deflections on its way in the net.

But the Dutch winger could easily have ended the half having made a couple, sending in a cross which Tosin Adarabioyo cleared from under his own bar and another which Tammy Abraham headed straight at Baggies keeper Sam Johnstone.

McGinn, meanwhile, came within inches of claiming his third of the season, thudding a shot against the post from 25 yards out.

By that point Albion were level, thanks to Barnes finally getting the better of veteran Villa right-back Alan Hutton.

The Scot, 14 years the on loan Leicester ace’s senior, had already been alert to make one key block.

Advertising

But all Barnes needed was one split second to escape and lift a cross to the far post, for Gayle to level the scores.

The final round of the contest went to Hutton, who flew in with perfect timing to block Barnes’s goal-bound shot early in the second period, before an injury to Neil Taylor saw the Villa man switch wings.

Albion were in ascendency early in the second-half but El Ghazi transformed the mood and momentum.

Yet Villa, with Abraham strangely off key, could not kill the game off, allowing Rodriguez the chance to steal the headlines.