Aston Villa 4-2 Nottingham Forest



Douglas Luiz double helps Villa see off Nottingham Forest in six-goal thriller

See weakness, exploit weakness. Unai Emery is a master at it, with Nuno Espírito Santo the latest top-flight manager to be outmanoeuvred by the Spaniard.

True, there was an Aston Villa stutter in the middle, during which Nottingham Forest were afforded an unlikely avenue back into a contest they had never been in.

But, that aside, it was a shining example of homing in on, and taking advantage of, the opposition’s shortcomings. What’s more, it was a return to the kind of ruthless finishing that Aston Villa have lacked in their trio of consecutive Villa Park defeats.

Such was the ease with which they opened a three-goal lead here, even the much maligned, sweat-drenched shirts they donned at the start of the season would have remained dry. Ollie Watkins’s opener drew him level with Mohamed Salah on 24-goal involvements for the campaign, before Douglas Luiz grabbed his eighth and ninth home league goals of the season. He is a number six, remember.

Forest then caused a few tummy flutters when Moussa Niakhaté and Morgan Gibbs-White reduced Villa’s lead to one. Stomachs were soothed though when Leon Bailey grabbed a reward for another high-voltage outing.

Sometimes modern football can be so complex, a myriad of triangles and shape shifting. But equally sometimes there is a beautiful simplicity to it. That was the case as Villa exploited a mismatch that stood out like a lemon in a punnet of blueberries from the moment the teams were released. Bailey, Villa’s full-back tormenter in chief, against an out-of-position Niakhaté.

Latecomers were still being admitted when the touchline-hugging Bailey was left unoccupied by Niakhaté. A turn of pace and a deft touch through Murillo’s legs later, and Bailey presented Watkins with a gimme. Felipe too was nutmegged by the cross. It proved a portal into a chastising afternoon for Forest’s defence.

There was then at least some real-time lesson learning as Niakhaté tried to shadow Bailey thereafter. Inexplicably though, just before the half hour, Niakhaté showed Bailey onto his stronger left foot, allowing the Jamaican to find Matty Cash’s smart underlap.

That resulted in a low cross that Jacob Ramsey helped tee up for Douglas Luiz to roll in. Emery celebrated like a gym user on a pulley machine; Gibbs-White gathered his teammates for what was presumably a rallying huddle. Alas it had little effect. From a recycled corner, John McGinn’s slalom-like twisting allowed him to deliver a cross perfect in weight and accuracy. Douglas Luiz rose to nod in

Ollie Watkins opens the scoring for Aston Villa from close range in the fourth minute. Photograph: Andrew Kearns/CameraSport/Getty Images

By the time the fifth minute of injury-time began, Forest had offered nothing resembling attacking threat. By the time it ended, though, they had a lifeline. Gibbs-White’s corner was headed back across goal by Taiwo Awoniyi, and Niakhaté chested in. The visiting supporters sang about a famous 4-3 victory in the making. At least, some of them did. Half-heartedly.

Those cries grew in volume soon after the break. In making a triple change, Nuno effectively flipped over the remaining managerial chess pieces and restarted the game. Off went centre-back pair Felipe and Murillo. Both had already been cautioned, which is perhaps how Niakhaté survived. He shifted centrally, and Harry Toffolo, the natural choice, filled the left-back spot.

The instant impact came further forward, though. One of Divock Origi’s first involvements was a right shoulder drop and roll, allowing him to expertly find Gibbs-White’s diagonal burst.Game on.

Things became frenetic. What had felt like a canter, began to scream catastrophe-in-the-making. Villa almost had space to breathe again when Youri Tielemans struck the post’s base. Soon, such space did appear via Bailey. Again, it was defensively suspect from Forest. Andrew Omobamidele, another of Nuno’s interval switches, played a lazy short pass that Tielemans intercepted. Matz Sels smothered from Watkins; Bailey finished with ease.

The final whistle brought a huge roar, one that was matched in volume when it was announced Manchester United had been defeated. Does the Champions League beckon? The Holte End thinks so.


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