Aston Villa steal march on Tottenham in race for European spot | Premier League
Who can really blame the supporters in these parts for returning to the well to sing the name of Unai Emery? The Aston Villa manager has changed what was deemed plausible inside six months. Villa preyed on a wishy-washy Tottenham to move level on points with the visitors, an early strike by Jacob Ramsey and a second-half free-kick by Douglas Luiz sufficient to kill off Spurs. For Villa, this deserved victory was a 2-1 trouncing.
Until Harry Kane lashed a penalty past Emi Martínez with a minute of normal time to play after the Villa goalkeeper was deemed to have fouled the striker following a VAR review, Villa were a third goal away from leapfrogging Spurs into sixth.
Villa then had to survive seven minutes of added time, when Son Heung-min had an equaliser chalked off for offside, to secure a win that guarantees a top-10 top-flight finish for the first time in 12 years.
It is staggering to think that in November 14 points separated these sides. Spurs were third, three points off the summit, and yet could now miss out on European football next season. At that point Villa were 16th, a point above the relegation zone.
Emery’s succinct response when asked whether he felt qualifying for the Europa League was a possibility when taking the job said everything about what has been a remarkable turnaround. “No, no,” he replied.
Spurs have not won away from home since January and outside of London since October. “It is not good enough for a club this size,” said Tottenham’s interim manager, Ryan Mason. “You cannot expect to compete where we want to compete with that sort of record. It needs to improve.”
Villa built on their commanding start by taking the lead on eight minutes. Ramsey converted Leon Bailey’s cutback on the edge of the six-yard box, capping a beautiful team move. Villa shifted the ball from left to right, Ramsey helping the ball on to Bailey before driving into the box to send Villa in front. Things did not improve for Spurs. Almost every lull was greeted with chants against the under-pressure chairman, Daniel Levy.
“We’ve had a disappointing season in terms of where we are in the table but many other things as well,” Mason said. “There probably has not been that consistency, that alignment and that togetherness throughout the whole club.”
Villa could and probably should have headed down the tunnel at half-time with a greater advantage. Four minutes before the interval Ollie Watkins’s diving header from an Álex Moreno cross dropped wide of the goal. Emi Buendía then sent a fine, first-time shot against an upright from Ramsey’s neat pass. Spurs struggled to stem the bleeding and, worryingly, they seemed shocked at the gusto and speed with which Villa attacked.
Technically, Tottenham did not register a first-half shot. Kane had to work overtime just to try to get sight of the ball such was Villa’s dominance. Son and Richarlison were even more peripheral. Son had seven first-half touches, Richarlison eight. That does not include the moment midway through the first half when Son feinted to shoot before rattling a post after racing clean through on Martínez’s goal. The problem for Son and Spurs was that he was well offside.
Kane should have scored seven minutes into the second half. Villa were a little lax when playing out from the back and Douglas Luiz got bumped off the ball, presenting Kane with a clear shot at goal. But Kane leathered his shot straight at Martínez, who repelled the England captain’s strike.
A couple of minutes earlier Fraser Forster made a two-handed save to prevent Villa from doubling their lead. Buendía cut inside Clément Lenglet but Forster read his shot.
The Spurs substitute Dejan Kulusevski went close to an equaliser three minutes after replacing Richarlison but after chopping inside Moreno his left-foot effort fell inches wide.
It would have been a travesty if Spurs departed anything but empty-handed and Douglas Luiz wrapped up the three points for Villa on 72 minutes. He flighted a right-foot strike towards the top corner, which Forster could not keep out with his left hand. Every outfield player celebrated in front of the delirious Holte End, who sensed that European nights might be coming back to Villa Park.