Ollie Watkins delivers clinical edge in Villa win and third straight loss for Spurs


Sometimes it is easy to be led by the scoreboard. This was a pulsating battle between two clubs energised by smart managerial appointments and there is a temptation to argue that the turning point came when Aston Villa somehow went in level at half-time, allowing Unai Emery to bend the game to his will with a double substitution that gave a previously rampant Tottenham Hotspur more questions to answer during the second half.

It was proactive management from Emery, who was too cute to be fooled by Pau Torres hauling Villa level in the seventh minute of added time. Doing nothing would have been complacent. Tottenham had dominated, Giovani Lo Celso putting them ahead, and they could have been out of sight at the end of the first half.

“Any other day we probably win comfortably,” Ange Postecoglou said. “It’s fine margins in football.”

Postecoglou and Emery both thought of the missed chances. Given a chance to regroup the Villa manager duly responded, Youri Tielemans and Leon Bailey replacing Moussa Diaby and Matty Cash, and the decisiveness was most evident when the winner arrived in the 61st minute. After all it was Tielemans who played the pass when Ollie Watkins, who was keen to put a disappointing display for England behind him, scored the goal with which Villa took fourth place from Spurs and moved to within two points of the top of the table.

Yet, while Watkins’ 12th goal of the season meant Villa set a club record of 22 Premier League wins in a calendar year, Emery refused to get carried away. There was no talk of a title challenge. Instead, there was realism from Emery, who said seven clubs have a better chance than Villa of finishing in the top four.

Perhaps that was why Postecoglou stayed positive after his side’s third consecutive defeat. The Australian would have been more concerned if Spurs, who will surely improve once key players return from injury, had played within themselves on a day when they remembered their former midfielder and manager, Terry Venables, after he died at the age of 80.

The action was frenetic from the start. Destiny Udogie and Dejan Kulusevski threatened for Spurs, the latter hitting the woodwork, while Villa looked dangerous from crossing positions. Torres, all alone from John McGinn’s free-kick, was aghast to send a free header wide.