Europe in our sights!

Boxing Day 2020 and as we collectively slipped into a booze and food induced stupor, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace arrived like a bolt out of the blue to stir the nation.

Emi Martínez was certainly wide-awake when he saved from Zaha within two minutes, the start of yet another rock-solid display from the keeper who is fast becoming the signing of the season. Tom Heaton watched on from the bench as Villa fans smugly considered the embarrassment of riches in the goalkeeping department.

Palace are no doubt dangerous, but their bright start proved to be nothing more than a false dawn. Within 5 minutes an excellent piece of work from Watkins saw Guaita save, the ball then falling to Bertrand Traoré who would grab his second goal in as many games.

Palace posed a threat with their attack and had a period of pressure around 15 minutes in, but Villa stood firm and a continuation of that fluid football last seen at the Hawthorns ensued.

There were shouts for a penalty midway through the half after a Cash challenge on van Aanholt, the referee said no, but the VAR suggested another look. Having watched the incident from every conceivable angle as the life and flow of another game was bled dry by technology, Anthony Taylor stuck with his original call.

The first half closed out with a potentially game-changing moment as Tyrone Mings shoved Zaha to the ground shortly after a clash which had seen both booked. The referee had no doubt and Mings was given a second yellow and his marching orders. Tyrone Mings has been a colossal presence in defence since first joining on loan from Bournemouth, but does have a tendency for error and ill-discipline, Dean Smith, quite rightly, did not look pleased. Another man with every right to be furious was Traoré, having got his name on the scoresheet again and produced a standout performance he headed for the changing room before half time as the man sacrificed to bring on Konsa.

You would be forgiven for thinking the second half would be a backs to the wall rear-guard effort for the Villans, but in fact, they continued to control the game, the numerical disadvantage not translating to the play.

On 66 minutes Villa bagged the second their performance deserved, El Ghazi with the free-kick, Watkins with a header back off the bar, and Hause on hand to nod across the line. Even with a man extra, it seemed a long way back for Crystal Palace.

10 minutes later Villa scored their sixth goal in two games, Watkins initial poor touch seeing him lose the chance to pull the trigger, instead, he laid off to El Ghazi who curled a sensational effort past Guaita, done and dusted.

Martínez was on hand when required in the closing stages as Villa saw out a Boxing Day victory to remember.

This report wouldn’t be complete without singling out Ollie Watkins, a man who hit the post, bar, struck at the keeper, and had a hand in all three Villa goals. Watkins was my man of the match by a stretch, tirelessly running, holding up the ball, driving at defenders, a constant nuisance and a man who has transformed the way we play. Think back to times last year with Samatta, Davis or even El Ghazi as our forward option, then look at the man who leads the line today and the outlet he provides. Goals will flow for Ollie Watkins and although he will feel frustration at not troubling the scorers today, Dean Smith will be ecstatic at his performance.

Villa fans can now go back to their festive merriment with even more of a spring in our step, where will this oddball of a season take us? Europe? Possibly.

Up the Villa!

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