Aston Villa 2 Albion 1

The opportunity extending its hand to the current Albion team is that of being the best in the club’s history.

They are good enough but it will only happen once they put right a few failings which are costing them dear A heartless judgement? It is not meant to be. Quite the opposite.

It’s all heart. Because it is impossible to watch the team being built by Graham Potter – both the collective and the individuals venturing out of their comfort zones – and not want them to do well.

One’s heart certainly went out to the Albion players, some of them flat out on the turf in despair, after Matt Targett fired Villa’s late winner.

Potter himself called it heart-wrenching.

Albion deserved better than that. They played with, yes, heart but also composure, intelligence and style.

Experienced media men around us in the press box were almost purring at their football when it was 11 versus 11.

Even after Aaron Mooy was sent off and Jack Grealish equalised, they created some very presentable situations to go back ahead right beneath the gaze of the Holte End.

But the analysis will have to be harsh this week because the Seagulls are doing so much good work and getting less than they deserve.

The 3-0 wins have been fantastic but getting reward from close games has been tougher.

Twice now they have been undermined by red cards some way before half-time. Twice they have conceded costly late goals.

More than twice they have not taken clear chances – or not converted great situations into clear chances.

They are being applauded when not winning by fans who go to games. They are earning plaudits for their football from those who watch them but don’t support them.

The football is an absolute pleasure to watch. Even those who see them every week will usually notice something in a performance to impress or surprise them.

Like the way they took the initiative and played with ten at Villa Park.

And yet they remain, for now, a point-per-game outfit hovering just above the relegation zone.

At times in previous seasons it has felt like Albion were getting the absolute maximum out of matches. Like this time last year when they chiselled out three successive 1-0 wins.

The emotion now is so different. That they are not getting what they should.

It feels like, when it all clicks, we really will see something special.

Even in moments as low as the final whistle at Villa Park, you have to keep that faith.

They have the potential to be one of the stories of the Premier League season but only if they can find those missing pieces, get those details right, especially in these close games.

Hence the self-analysis and hard work will continue this week once they have dusted themselves down from a finale as cruel as that which rounded off their 2016-17 promotion season at the same venue.

One obvious way in which Albion undermined themselves this time was the Mooy red card. Delaying a free-kick followed by a sliding foul on Grealish.

Potter and one or two of his players sort of suggested amid post-match interviews that one of the yellows might have been a bit harsh.

But no one was mounting a staunch defence of the Aussie midfielder and justifiably so.

Grealish and the Villa support rightly received praise for their contribution to their team’s dramatic win. But the playmaker and those who idolise him were subdued until Mooy departed.

He was playing so well as part of a slick Albion side who quietened Villa Park.

Reward came when Adam Webster’s far post run was picked out by Pascal Gross’s free-kick and the defender guided a perfect downward header back across Tom Heaton.

Aaron Connolly and Neal Maupay had chances, Dale Stephens played his passes and Mooy popped up in dangerous little spaces.

The mood around Villa Park changed the split-second the home hordes realised the man who had just slid in on Grealish was also the man who had already been booked.

Suddenly, Albion were under siege. Video ref Martin Atkinson ruled Wesley had fouled Maty Ryan before Conor Hourihane fired home.

But that just increased the fury around Villa Park and Grealish levelled in first-half added time from a low cross.

What Albion will surely look at is that Grealish picked up possession on halfway near the touchline and that, first with the ball and then without, his gliding run took him past half their team.

When Frederic Guilbert drilled low across goal, there were several blue and white shirts quite near Grealish but none near enough as he forced the ball home.

And yet Albion’s response with ten men was in its way even more impressive than their opening half-hour.

Of course, they had their tough moments. Ryan made a close-range save from Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi skied the rebound.

But they also asked questions at the other end. And that is where they will also look back and wonder why more was not made of chances for Maupay and Martin Montoya. Or of situations in the final third, such as that which should have seen Solly March slide the ball into Stephens’ path.

More importantly, they will look forward as to how they get it right next time.

In the end, with seconds running out, they went away from their strong belief in keeping the ball and booted it into Villa territory, offering them one last chance to work their Plan A, B and C – give it to Grealish.

His little run and pass and Targett’s drive did the rest. Cruel. But it should not have come to that.