Dean Smith heaped praise on Ollie Watkins and Emiliano Martinez after Aston Villa’s brilliant 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

Villa went a goal up after just five minutes. Watkins advanced and shot at Vicente Guaita. The ‘keeper could only palm it away to Bertrand Traore, who converted from close range.

Smith’s side were in control of the half, but this was put into question when they were reduced to ten-men. Tyrone Mings was sent off after receiving two bookings in just six first half minutes.

Early winner: Aston Villa and the PL’s most-improved unit

This could have been Villa’s downfall, but they asserted more control over the game in the second half. Their lead was doubled in the 66th minute.

Watkins’s header struck the bar, but Kortney Hause was there to head in the rebound from a couple of yards out.

Villa made it three with 15 minutes to go on the counter-attack. The move was led by Jack Grealish who let in Watkins. The forward laid it off to Anwar El-Ghazi and he finished emphatically into the top corner to seal an impressive victory.

The Villans are now unbeaten in four league games and this win moves them up to sixth in the table.

Speaking after the game, as cited by the Express and Star, Smith was delighted by the work rate of Watkins and co:

“I wanted the Christmas present of a good performance and result and I certainly got one with that result and performance.

“We were indebted to Emi in the first minute with a good save.

“Our counter-attacking threat was there for all to see. I thought we created numerous good opportunities with the first goal and could have scored a few more.

“Unfortunately Tyrone got sent-off but I said to the players at half-time there’s no other striker I’d want in the Premier League to play with 10 men.

“I thought Ollie Watkins was outstanding and the only thing missing from his performance was the goal.

“The lads really appreciate the work he puts in. He has hit the bar, hit the post and the goalkeeper has made good saves as well. He will be disappointed he hasn’t scored but can be happy with his performance.”



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