BIRMINGHAM -- This had been shaping up to be the night Philippe Coutinho announced his glorious return to the shores of the Premier League. Leeds had other ideas on Wednesday as the fought back for a 3-3 draw.
Torn to shreds by the Brazilian and willing accomplice Jacob Ramsey, Leeds seemed down and out, trailing 3-1 with 42 minutes played. The traveling faithful might well have been staring nervously at the lower reaches of the Premier League table, where so many others have started to pick up points. Those relegation fears are certainly not entirely allayed by a point at Villa Park but the battling manner in which it was won augurs well for Saturday's clash against Everton.
For Villa the positives might also outweigh the negatives. Yes their defense was back to Dean Smith's dog days. However the evidence of Steven Gerrard's 10 Premier League games before tonight suggests this laxness -- Tyrone Mings handed Leeds a string of scoring opportunities before Ezri Konsa saw red late on -- will be robustly stamped out. Anyway if Coutinho is in the mood that took him tonight he might just be able to paper over every single crack at the other end.
From the outset the Barcelona loanee sparkled, looking every inch the player that so enchanted Barca last time he was in the Premier League. His fortnight and change with his new team mates had clearly paid dividends; his every flick, no-look pass and dummy found a teammate in a position to threaten the Leeds defense. A backheel of the most gorgeous indifference set Lucas Digne up to win a corner early on, the combined efforts of Islan Meslier and Robin Koch just about denying Mings' header.
The Villa captain might have been dominant in the Leeds' box, the issue was what happened at the other end. Mings was dragged into the left channel but his attempts to win the ball back off Robin Koch and Rodrigo were altogether too weak. Konsa hared across in an attempt to quell the danger but in doing so gave Daniel James the space to fire home his third goal of the season.
For a time Villa seemed ill at ease, Mings berating Digne for not running down the byline as the hosts' attack struggled to click into gear. Leeds saw little of the ball but when they did get a chance to move up the field they did so ferociously, James probing the spaces in behind the backline one moment, crashing a long range effort against Emiliano Martinez's bar the next.
A few inches lower and the game might have swung away from Villa. Instead the hosts were soon two ahead, Coutinho bending the game to his will. A low cross from Matty Cash found him unmarked just inside the box, a low drive flashed well beyond Meslier's reach and into the bottom corner. No one could get close to him.
If anyone might at least get near it was Jacob Ramsey. The youngster was all ball progression and dynamism, prepared to drop deep in pursuit of the ball before bursting out of the traps to offer support to the frontline. As soon as the pass was played into a retreating Coutinho in midfield the 20 year old flew out of the traps, seconds later he was accelerating beyond the Leeds backline to collect the through ball and stroke the ball into the net.
Five minutes later he repeated the trick, accelerating out of nowhere as the Leeds defense were preoccupied by Ollie Watkins. They had no answer for the burst of speed this youngster brought; whilst Marcelo Bielsa's system has been the answer to so many of the issues this team faced before he arrived it does come with inbuilt vulnerabilities to the third man runs of a player like Ramsey that may be unanswerable for this collection of players.
Still when Leeds clicked it was too much for Villa to live with. A Mateusz Kilch backheel just before the break found Rodrigo, his clipped cross from the byline scrambled home by James, who somehow barged his way through two defenders to scramble the ball across the line before Martinez could deal with the danger.
For all the warmth and verve Coutinho and Ramsey brought to the game there was precious little control of proceedings from Villa. Perhaps that is just what Leeds do to you, forcing you into their chaotic blitz football. At any moment it seemed the game could slip away from the visitors or they might simply barge past Douglas Luiz and John McGinn, getting at the hosts' soft underbelly. Villa were no less two faced. Having just cleared a Pascal Struijk header off the goalline, Mings turned provider for Leeds, miscuing his clearance straight to Diego Llorente.
Yet more errors came, substitute Carney Chukwuemeka heading straight into a Leeds pressing trap. A nervy pass backward and soon Klich was striking at goal, albeit too close to Martinez.
If his defense were not going to bail him out Coutinho determined he must win this game himself, a dipping strike moments after Leeds' equalizer hit with such ferocity that the 29-year-old briefly injured himself in the process. When he exited proceedings soon after he seemed to take Villa's composure with him, Konsa receiving a late second yellow for impeding Meslier from launching a counter attack with an elbow. The hosts would cling on to their point. Performances as excellent as Coutinho's and Ramsey's deserved much more.