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Aston Villa 2-2 Chelsea: Gallagher caps Blues fightback at Villa Park

SoccerNews in English Premier League 27 Apr 2024

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Conor Gallagher scored the equaliser as Chelsea fought back from two goals down to clinch a deserved 2-2 draw with Champions League-chasing Aston Villa on Saturday.

Villa looked set to go nine points clear of Tottenham in the race to finish in the Premier League’s top four, with Marc Cucurella’s own goal and Morgan Rogers’ low drive giving them a handsome half-time lead.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men dominated much of the first half without reward, but they continued to press after the interval and cultured finishes from Noni Madueke and Gallagher dragged them level.

They almost completed a fine comeback in stoppage time, but there was relief for Villa when referee Craig Pawson disallowed a goal for Chelsea defender Axel Disasi following a VAR review due to an infringement from Benoit Badiashile.

It meant Villa boss Unai Emery was unable to celebrate his new long-term contract with three points, with his team now seven points clear of fifth-placed Spurs, who have three games in hand on their rivals.

Chelsea stay ninth and are five points adrift of the top seven, but with a game in hand to come, their European hopes are not yet over.

Villa made a flying start and were ahead within four minutes, albeit in somewhat fortunate circumstances. John McGinn didn’t get a clean connection on Lucas Digne’s left-wing cutback, but his shot bounced off Cucurella and into the net.

Chelsea thought they were level after 16 minutes as Nicolas Jackson raced clear to finish into the roof of the net, but his strike was disallowed for offside after a VAR review, with replays showing he was leaning beyond Matty Cash.

Jackson should then have equalised when found by Cucurella six yards out, but he could only send his header against the foot of the post and wide.

Villa then doubled their lead against the run of play shortly before half-time, with Djordje Petrovic powerless as Rogers squeezed his shot through Trevoh Chalobah’s legs and in.

A hamstring injury saw Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez withdrawn at half-time, and his replacement Robin Olsen was beaten after 62 minutes, Madueke stroking home after Gallagher forced a high turnover.

Olsen stuck out an arm to deny Madueke a second with 71 minutes gone, but he had no chance as the Blues levelled with nine minutes to play, Gallagher rifling a left-footed finish into the top-left corner.

Chelsea thought they had won it when Disasi headed home five minutes into stoppage time, but referee Pawson disallowed the goal following a VAR review, with Badiashile adjudged to have fouled Diego Carlos in the build-up.

Villa throw it away

Villa could hardly have wished for a stronger position at half-time. Despite Chelsea carving out several good openings, they found themselves 2-0 up and primed to exploit their opponents further through the pace of Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey.

Chelsea had lost 16 of their previous 18 Premier League games when trailing at half-time (one win, one draw), losing their last eight when two or more goals behind at the break.

However, Emery’s men simply didn’t get going after the restart, and only a late VAR review saved them from a crushing defeat, with Disasi’s potential winner chalked off for a foul by fellow defender Badiashile.

Gallagher leads from the front

Gallagher has polarised opinion at times this season, but Chelsea’s stand-in skipper produced a talismanic display just when his team needed him most at Villa Park.

The England international is known for his tenacious work out of possession, and he forced a turnover on the corner of the Villa box in the build-up to Madueke’s goal.

Gallagher’s own strike, which flew into the top corner to stun the home faithful, took him to double figures for Premier League goal involvements for the season (four goals, six assists). He has only achieved that feat in one other campaign in the competition, scoring eight goals and adding three assists on loan at Crystal Palace in 2021-22.

Four of his seven Premier League goals for Chelsea, meanwhile, have now come from outside the area.

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