Aston Villa turn up heat on European rivals Tottenham with vital win
Jacob Ramsey and Douglas Luiz ignited Aston Villa’s Europa League charge after a vital win over rivals Tottenham.
Unai Emery’s side moved level on points with sixth-placed Spurs with two games left in the race for Europe following Saturday’s 2-1 victory.
They were superior in every way, with Emi Buendia hitting the bar, and remain in the hunt for a surprise European spot after recovering from successive defeats following strikes from Ramsey and Luiz – despite Harry Kane’s late penalty.
Wretched Tottenham, aimless and lifeless, looked anything but a side competing for the top six.
Just 13 months ago at Villa Park they ran riot as a Son Heung-min hat-trick inspired a 4-0 win but, despite a brief second-half improvement, it was a performance which underlined their continued regression.
In his programme notes Emery said it was the game Villa had been fighting for and it was worth the wait as the hosts grabbed the lead after eight minutes.
Ramsey spread play wide to Leon Bailey, Villa’s only change from last week’s derby defeat at Wolves, and motored into the box to meet Bailey’s low cross ahead of Pedro Porro and find the corner.
There was little or no reaction from Tottenham. The away fans’ focus was on continued chanting for the exit of chairman Daniel Levy while their side remained passive, even with the ball.
With the lead, Villa were the more cohesive unit with Spurs’ only chance ending with a much-delayed offside flag when Son hit the post after running clear.
Tottenham drifted through the half, almost in a daze, and needed Fraser Forster to stop them falling further behind after 32 minutes.
Porro’s error was seized on and Ollie Watkins darted into the area to centre for Bailey, only for the goalkeeper’s fine save to keep him out.
It felt like a second would seal the game for the hosts and they almost doubled their lead five minutes before the break when a diving Watkins just missed Alex Moreno’s teasing cross.
A non-existent Tottenham midfield was being cut through by Villa and the bullish Buendia hit the bar having collected a return pass from Ramsey after breezing through the centre.
Normal service continued in the second half, John McGinn slicing wide from distance and Forster denying Buendia, as Spurs floundered.
Yet they were presented with a glorious chance to level out of the blue when Oliver Skipp robbed Luiz and the ball rolled to Kane.
The England captain had time and space but shot too close to Emi Martinez from just inside the box.
It was a let-off for Villa and sparked an improvement in the visitors as their hosts retreated and began to invite pressure, with Dejan Kulusevski curling wide.
But any comeback hopes were snuffed out by Luiz with 18 minutes left.
Cristian Romero clattered Watkins 25 yards out and all Forster – with his positioning in question – could do was help Luiz’s free-kick into the top corner.
There was still time for Kane to score a 90th-minute penalty after he was fouled by Martinez – following a lengthy VAR check – but it was too late.