Anwar El Ghazi’s equaliser moves Aston Villa into a European place after a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Villa ended their run of six straight defeats against the Blues, to end December unbeaten and continue their ascent up the table thanks to another hard earned point.
Dean Smith’s side started the match showcasing the same confidence they showed in their Boxing Day home win over Crystal Palace, and in similar fashion almost scored within the first five minutes for the second game running.
First Jack Grealish tested Edouard Mendy in the Chelsea goal with a curling effort from the corner of the box, and then from the resulting corner El Ghazi went close. Grealish found the winger unmarked with a well worked low routine, however his shot was blocked in front of goal.
Villa had only failed to keep a clean sheet in one of their six away games this season, although they almost conceded after 12 minutes in the capital. A misplaced pass was intercepted by Christian Pulisic who ran at the Villa defence before firing a shot into the side netting, failing to punish the visitors.
With both sides hoping for the win that would take them inside the top four, an end to end game began to unfold. The hosts were the first to draw blood and found the breakthrough just after the half hour mark, with Olivier Giroud scoring his tenth goal in 10 games against Villa.
Pulisic had been heavily involved in the attacking department for Chelsea and it was the American who started the move. He played a pass to Ben Chilwell who picked out Giroud in the middle and the Frenchman converted with a diving header into the bottom corner.
Frank Lampard’s team controlled the remainder of the half to hold the lead at the break, but it was the half time team talk from his dugout counterpart that worked instantly as the game was levelled five minutes after the restart.
Villa worked the ball out to right back Matty Cash whose inch perfect cross to El Ghazi back post allowed the Dutchman to finish through the legs of Mendy for his fifth goal of the month and his third in consecutive game weeks.
Likewise to the first half, the fixture developed into an end to end battle with both sides going close to taking the lead. Lampard thought his side had retaken the lead when their captain Cesar Azpilicueta put the ball into the back of the goal.
A short corner was met near post by Pulisic whose header was cleared off the line, before the ball dropped to Azpilicueta who squeezed beneath Martinez. However, the flag had rightfully been raised with Pulisic having been stood in an offside position at the start of the move.
Villa turned defence into attack and went straight up the other end, only being denied themselves by the crossbar. John McGinn unleashed a powerful left footed strike from 25 yards out which left Mendy stood unmoved and thankful the Scotsman’s shot rattled the woodwork.
Chelsea started applying more pressure to the Villa goal in their hopes of taking three points, with Lampard bringing on summer signings Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
As the game went into the final quarter of an hour, Pulisic forced Villa’s Argentinian shot stopper into a fine fingertip save before Chilwell then saw his dangerous looking volley deflected for a corner. The home side were asking plenty of questions to the visitors.
Jacob Ramsey was introduced with ten minutes to go and he almost made an instant impact seconds after replacing El Ghazi. The teenager picked up a pass from Ollie Watkins and curled a right footed attempt only narrowly wide of the post with Mendy once again beaten.
Villa almost had their hard earned point snatched away deep into injury time when Chilwell went close with a fantastic volleyed effort. The left back struck the ball on the full, and was unfortunate to see his strike go the wrong side of the post to the relief of the Villa contingency.
The Villain’s weren’t to be denied their first point at Stamford Bridge in nine years, continuing their fantastic form on the road which sees them move into fifth place in the table, one point off the top four.
Villa now have four days before they travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United who sit one place above them in fourth and are unbeaten in their last four league games.