A virtuoso performance from Emiliano Martínez meant Brighton’s unwanted statistic will continue for a little longer at least. Despite being one of the division’s most improved teams over the past few weeks, their three most recent Premier League home wins have all come in different years.
It is surely only a matter of time until that is put to bed if they can keep playing like this, however, with Martínez producing a string of brilliant saves to earn Dean Smith’s side a point which moves them to within striking distance of the top four, even if they never really looked like scoring themselves.
“It wasn’t even bang average – I have never seen us make so many unforced errors in a game,” admitted Smith. “Thankfully our goalkeeper was on top form but we didn’t protect him well enough.”
Brighton’s unlucky FA Cup defeat to Leicester in midweek was their first since a narrow loss to Manchester City a month ago – a run of six matches. Since then, Graham Potter’s side have shown vast improvement to move well clear of any danger thanks to wins against Liverpool and Tottenham, even if goals have still been hard to come by.
Their manager made two changes from the team that started against Burnley last week, with Leandro Trossard and Steven Alzate coming in and the defence reverting to a back four.
Villa, who kicked off knowing they could move to within two points of Liverpool with two games in hand, welcomed back Douglas Luiz in midfield as Smith made only one change from last week’s win over Arsenal.
With six victories already this season, away form has been a key factor in Villa’s transformation having been embroiled in a relegation battle this time last year, although it was the hosts who began with far more intent here. Alexis Mac Allister will still be wondering how he failed to direct Joël Veltman’s delicious cross on target, before the Dutchman took aim himself from outside the area to warm Martínez’s gloves.
It took until almost the 20th minute for Villa to mount a serious attack as Ross Barkley set up Luiz, only for the Brazilian to curl his shot well wide. A crunching challenge from Veltman that left Jack Grealish writhing in agony was an indication of the close attention being paid to the playmaker, who was forced to drop deeper as the half wore on and he attempted to exert an influence.
Maupay’s shot from a tight angle was dealt with well by Martínez, who opted not to move to the south coast from Arsenal in the summer and has been one of Villa’s best performers this season. A one-handed acrobatic tip over the bar following Trossard’s dipping effort from distance was followed by an even better save from the resulting corner, with Dan Burn somehow denied his first ever goal for Brighton as they cranked up the pressure.
The Argentinian must have raised a few eyebrows in his homeland when he described Grealish as like “Messi with a right foot” this week, although the goalkeeper illustrated his own considerable ability at the start of the second half to keep out compatriot Mac Allister’s shot with his legs after a late adjustment.
All too often, however, Brighton’s excellent approach play fizzled out at the most crucial moments and Villa’s organised defence led by the bellowing Tyrone Mings stood firm. Substitute Adam Lallana was heavily involved in Brighton’s next chance, only for Martínez to produce yet another world-class save from Veltman’s stinging drive.
Maupay felt aggrieved when he went down in the area following a mazy run but the referee, Darren England, waved away his protests. Morgan Sanson – a £14m signing from Marseille in January – was brought on for his Villa debut when Matty Cash was withdrawn due to a suspected hamstring injury. Yet it was another substitute – Danny Welbeck – who spurned the best opportunity of the closing stages as Martínez was again alert to block his attempt from point blank range at the near post.
“It’s frustrating but pleasing because the performance was one of our best and we did everything but score,” was Potter’s fair assessment. “Their goalkeeper was outstanding.”
Having allowed Martinez to leave for £20m, after helping them to win the FA Cup last season, Arsenal must already be regretting their decision.