Leicester (0) vs. Aston Villa (1) – Injury Time Delight

Aston Villa boss, Dean Smith, summed up the difference between this year’s team and last year’s when he noted, after this victory over Leicester, that captain Jack Grealish had yelled at his goalie, in the 89th minute, to get the ball up the field, “Come on, let’s get the win.” “That showed our confidence,” Smith added.

Without a win in their last ten league matches at King Power Stadium, one would have assumed that a point would have been enough for the Villans to go home happy. Not for this Villa aggregation! Wins are anticipated whoever they play, even more so after drubbing Liverpool just before the international break.

Sure enough, tied at 0-0 with time running out and Leicester wearying, John McGinn, Villa’s newly appointed captain of the Scotland national team, took it upon himself to carry the ball down the left flank before finding sub Traore at the far post with a finely arced cross. The header from the new Villa signing did not bother Schmeichel in goal, but nor did the miss of a good opportunity bother Villa.

Within a minute or so, the ball came back to McGinn, in a similar spot. This time, he feinted to go outside, rolling his defender, and turned in, immediately dispatching a pass to Ross Barkley who was racing forward into oodles of open space. As the Chelsea loanee carried the ball towards the penalty area, Leicester’s defense lined up just outside the line, apprehensively eyeing Watkins to Barkley’s left and Traore to his right.

What they were not prepared for was a powerful right-foot shot of ultimate precision, fired on the run from 25 yards, with almost no backswing, skimming the grass and flying just inside the left post and into the back of the net. Schmeichel, who may have been screened by Evans, had thrown himself to his right, but barely got his fingertips to the ball, not enough to prevent it hitting the side panel and ricocheting around the goal as if wanting to be noticed. Indeed, it was. A great goal, especially given the time and circumstances.

That left three minutes of injury time to protect the slim lead, but Leicester were already physically and psychologically beaten. The Claret and Blues closed out the game with ease, and they were ready to celebrate. Leicester 0, Aston Villa 1. Three more points, four wins in a row, 12 goals for and only 2 allowed, and more lines for the record books. Table-wise, they were in second spot, one point behind Everton, with a game in hand and ahead of all the Premier League’s top six from last season.

Compared to the shoot-out against Liverpool’s Reds, this was more like an evenly balanced game of chess. The post-game stats reflected that. In fact, Leicester might have felt they deserved a point, especially considering their misfortune in the injury department. They were without Jamie Vardy, Pereira, Soyuncu, and Ndidi, while Madison was only fit enough to come on as a late sub. Still, the replacements, especially Castagne and Fofana were, arguably, two of their standouts and Mendy and Iheanacho are no slouches. The Foxes are a top tier team with a great goalie and a deep bench, and by beating them, Villa had further established their remarkable progress.

The game had opened with both teams tentative after the international break. Playing from strength at the back, real chances were few and far between. It was Leicester who threatened first when, in the 21st minute, Castagne joined an attack on the right and had a clear path to goal thanks to Cash and Barnes clattering each other into a heap. What he didn’t have was an open blue shirt and he was forced to attempt to blast it past Martinez at the near post. These shots are easy fodder for a goalie of his size and ability, and the ball was easily batted away for a corner. A shot by Iheanacho, shortly after, was more challenging, forcing the keeper to dive wide to his right to gather, again comfortably.

The only major threat of a Leicester goal came from a fine shot by Tielemans. From outside the area, it would have been comfortable enough for Martinez if it hadn’t caught a little of Tyrone Mings, pushing it closer to the goalie’s left post without reducing its velocity. The Argentinian did well to adapt and, with strong hands, turned the shot wide. That was in the 59th minute. It was the last time that Villa were ruffled.

Meanwhile, Villa’s offensive efforts were initially thwarted by the very effective coverage of Watkins by the 19-year-old Fofana, and of Grealish by Castagne. The latter required frequent kicks around Jack’s shins which, eventually, was too much for referee Jon Moss. The disgruntled fullback was shown a yellow card.

When Jack did escape the Belgian’s attention, he gathered a crowd. In the 30th minute, with a phalanx of blue shirts around him, the England star was a step from leaving all four of them in his wake when Perez chopped him down from behind. Another yellow card.

Even with the all the attention, Jack put his imprint on the game. A great move in the 40th minute, that McGinn started in his own half with a long cross-field pass to Targett open on the left wing, became a tempting opportunity for Trezeguet courtesy of, naturally, a Grealish pull back from the goal line. Were it not for an excellent defensive slide by Justin, the ball could easily have found the corner of the net instead of flashing just wide.

This was a sign of things to come. A corner in the 53rd minute by Jack had enough pace that when it reached the far post, just five yards out and Schmeichel scrambling, it only required a nod. Konsa did everything right, rising and directing his header down. He may have been barged into by Castagne. Regardless, the ball went just outside the post instead of into the net. Then, another dazzling dribble into the penalty area by Grealish led to Barkley having a chance to shoot from close in, but a defender’s leg got in the way.

Watkins joined those looking dangerous. A nice move onto his left foot in the penalty area and a quick release looked bound to trouble the goalie before Justin again intervened, taking the sting out of the shot. Undeterred, Watkins pounced on a poor pass to Mendy and was gliding past Evans en route for a scoring opportunity when his legs were taken from under him. A yellow card for Evans, cold comfort for Ollie. In between, Luiz was set-up for a blast at goal from just outside the area only to hit it straight at a grateful Schmeichel.

All that remained was that killer instinct from McGinn and Barkley in stoppage time to secure the Villans’ three points. Indeed, the boys from Aston kept up the pressure in the way that successful teams do, knowing goals will come.

This is a Villa team with lots of goals within them and, currently, by far the best defense in the Premier League. That is a strange thing to say about a team that only escaped demotion last season on the last day, and by one point. Let us not forget, though, that this is a greatly improved team in terms of maturity and excellent new talent. Get used to Aston Villa winning, hopefully without keeping their fans on edge for ninety minutes plus!

ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Emiliano Martinez, Matt Targett, Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa, Matthew Cash, Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins, Trezeguet

SUBS: Conor Hourihane, Bertrand Traore, Jed Steer, Ahmed El Mohamady, Anwar El Ghazi, Marvelous Nakamba, Bjorn Engels

LEICESTER (4-1-4-1): Kasper Schmeichel, Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, James Justin, Nampalys Mendy, Ayoze Pérez, Youri Tielemans, Dennis Praet, Harvey Barnes, Kelechi Iheanacho

SUBS: Wesley Morgan, James Madison, Marc Albrighton, Danny, Ward, Islam Slimani, Cengiz Under, Hamza Choudhury

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