Aston Villa edged a 1-0 win away to Leeds on Saturday evening to bring themselves only six points off the top four in the Premier League.
The absences of their talismanic club captain Jack Grealish and starting right-back Matty Cash were dispelled when Anwar El Ghazi opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game.
Elland Road’s much-maligned playing surface proved to be a blessing in disguise as Ollie Watkins slipped over while shooting to inadvertently put El Ghazi through on goal for a cool finish past Illan Meslier.
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The Dutch winger barely even celebrated the goal but instead sheepishly glanced over at the linesman expecting it to be ruled out for offside - not noticing the defender who played him on.
It was apt revenge for the red card he received when he last played at Elland Road that was later overturned, although Leeds fans and players alike may feel aggrieved that Villa left-back Matt Targett did not pick up a red card himself this evening for any of his rash challenges that followed his initial yellow.
Leeds had the lion's share of possession and created more chances too but rarely looked like scoring.
The pick of their chances was an 89th minute far post header from Raphinha who really should have done more to test Emiliano Martinez.
They now have over a week of rest to regroup before a tough fixture away to West Ham on 8th March, whereas Aston Villa have two games before then against Sheffield United and Wolves respectively.
TALKING POINT - VILLA LEARN TO WIN WITHOUT GREALISH
Before this evening Aston Villa had lost all three Premier League matches Jack Grealish has missed since winning promotion back into the Premier League in 2019, which highlights the influence he has this on this team.
Tonight Dean Smith set them up to be a bit more defensive by trying to get men behind the ball and match Leeds in terms of pressing while letting them enjoy most of the ball. This very likely caused the decision to give rare starts to Marvelous Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey over the duo of Douglas Luiz and Ross Barkley due to factors such as their defensive qualities, defensive work rate and positional awareness.
Leeds were unable to adapt effectively and the bold move from Smith paid off.
MAN OF THE MATCH - MARVELOUS NAKAMBA (ASTON VILLA)
Although El Ghazi got the only goal of the game and had an electric start to the first half, Nakamba and Mings were the main reasons why Villa were even able to protect their narrow lead and keep a clean sheet against a Leeds side with the in-form attacking duo of Raphinha and Bamford. After being a mainstay in the side last season playing 34 games, the Zimbabwean defensive midfielder has seen his minutes deplete this time around yet Villa have only lost once in the 11 games he's played for them. He made six interceptions - more than any other player on the pitch - as well as making ten ball recoveries and winning all five of his duels too. He may not have impacted the game this evening with the ball at his feet, but his defensive work was invaluable.
Leeds United: Meslier 6, Ayling 7, Llorente 7, Cooper 7, Dallas 6, Struijk 5, Klich 5, Roberts 4, Costa 5, Raphinha 7, Bamford 5...Subs: Alioski 6, Harrison 6, Hernandez 5
Aston Villa: Martinez 7, Targett 6, Elmohamady 6, Mings 8, Konsa 8, Nakamba 8, McGinn 7, Ramsey 6, El Ghazi 8, Traore 6, Watkins 6...Subs: Sanson 6, Trezeguet 6
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5' - GOAL!!! Villa's corner evades everyone before the ball ends up with Watkins, who much like Bamford a few minutes before, slips mid-shot. Luckily for him, El Ghazi latches onto it and finishes past Meslier! 1-0 Villa.
11' - SAVED!! Raphinha cuts in from the left and has his shot stopped. The rebound falls to Roberts whose shot is also kept out by Martinez.
18' - SAVED!! If this was Football Manager Dean Smith would have clearly ticked 'shoot on sight' for El Ghazi because he's had yet another shot from range! Well saved by Meslier again, but Villa definitely looking the more likely side to score and add to their first goal.
89' - CLOSE!!! That's the best chance Leeds have had all game! Harrison floats in a cross to the far post and Raphinha's header is somehow kept out. Bielsa has his head in his hands.
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