Aston Villa clinched a late win at Leicester courtesy of a sumptuous first-time strike by the substitute Bertrand Traoré to fuel their hopes of playing European football next season. Leicester can only dream of such grand stages after defeat extended their miserable run.
The hosts, who sacked Brendan Rodgers last weekend, remain in a sorry predicament, entrenched in the Premier League relegation zone and winless in eight matches. The damning reality is they have taken just four points since winning the reverse fixture at Villa Park at the beginning of February.
Leicester had Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall sent off with 20 minutes to play but with seconds of second-half stoppage time to run, they thought they had won a penalty, only for a VAR review to deem Patson Daka’s bump on Ollie Watkins a foul.
Watkins opened the scoring with his eighth goal in 10 games before Harvey Barnes cancelled out his first‑half strike. But Traoré, recalled from a loan at Istanbul Basaksehir in January, secured victory for Villa with three minutes of normal time left on the clock.
Villa have collected 16 points from the last available 18 and Unai Emery admitted his team, transformed since his appointment and now seventh, could require their passports on away trips next season.
“Now we can add another step and think about being candidates in the European positions but it is going to be very difficult because Brighton and Brentford are playing very well and very competitive,” Emery said.
“Chelsea and Liverpool, they have to be in Europe next year and are going to react, I think. We can have ambition, motivation to try to be a candidate. We are going to be very demanding and [must]keep being consistent. Don’t relax, don’t stop.”
This fixture was scheduled originally for September but was postponed owing to the Queen’s death and while both teams were struggling at the time – Villa were 17th with four points from their first six games and Leicester were bottom with one – Villa have shot up the table since Emery replaced Steven Gerrard in October. On Sunday the Leicester chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, recognised the need for a similar uplift and dismissed Rodgers after conceding his team were in trouble. Adam Sadler and Mike Stowell, long-serving coaches, were handed the reins.
Leicester enjoyed the better of the opening stages, an unmarked Harry Souttar heading against a post from a James Maddison corner, but Villa took the lead on 23 minutes. Douglas Luiz lifted the ball over Nampalys Mendy and Emi Buendía slipped Watkins through. The in-form Watkins, sandwiched between the defenders Timothy Castagne and Wout Faes, still had a lot to do but kept his balance amid turbulence and cleverly prodded the ball into the corner past Daniel Iversen, again preferred to the Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward, who had been dropped by Rodgers.
The Villa full-back Álex Moreno shot wide on the half-hour and by now Leicester were wobbling. Douglas Luiz sent a shot at goal after Barnes plunged Leicester into trouble with a poor clearance. But, just as Villa took the lead against the run of play, Leicester hit back a few minutes later. Faes played a fine diagonal pass out wide to Barnes, who superbly took the ball in his stride and switched on the afterburners. Barnes’s pace helped him breeze past the 37‑year‑old Villa right-back Ashley Young and he drove into the box before guiding an unerring right‑foot shot into the far corner.
Moreno went close to regaining Villa’s advantage after the break, smacking the upright after powering to the byline. Five minutes earlier Castagne came close to latching on to a clever Maddison pass but Leicester’s task got significantly harder when Dewsbury-Hall picked up his second yellow card for charging into a challenge on Young. The galling thing for Leicester was the midfielder was about to be substituted.
Afterwards Sadler, who received a good-luck message from Rodgers on Tuesday, insisted Leicester cannot feel sorry for themselves. “We’re in professional sport, we love a challenge,” Sadler said. “Let’s get on with it and give it everything we’ve got.”
Villa probed for a winner. Douglas Luiz teed up Young to shoot from the edge of the D and soon after they had a flurry of half chances. Iversen was alert to deny Watkins from a tight angle and then John McGinn saw a shot deflect wide via a stray Victor Kristiansen boot. Leon Bailey then shot wide, his last action before being replaced by Traoré as part of a late Villa triple substitution. Two minutes later Wilfred Ndidi inadvertently gifted the ball to Traoré with a blind pass on the edge of the Leicester box and Traoré promptly located the top left-hand corner of the net. Soon after Emery left the field a genius in the eyes of the Villa fans singing his name on loop.