EPL

Aston Villa maintain Champions League charge with comfortable win over Wolves

By Sports Desk March 30, 2024

Aston Villa maintained their pursuit of Champions League qualification with a 2-0 win over Wolves at Villa Park.

Unai Emery's men had been knocked down into fifth by Tottenham’s late win over Luton earlier on Saturday but they responded in style in the midlands derby.

Moussa Diaby notched his first Premier League goal of 2024 to open the scoring in the first half before Ezri Konsa celebrated his recent England debut with a rare strike, though it was a fluke.

He will not care too much about that as his side climbed back up into fourth position, three points above Spurs, as they chase qualification to Europe’s premier club competition for the first time.

It was also an important victory considering they visit Manchester City in midweek, but the one worry will be the condition of Ollie Watkins, who did not reappear after the half-time interval.

Wolves, so depleted of attacking options they were forced to hand a Premier League debut to 18-year-old striker Leon Chiwome, will regret the glaring chance missed by Rayan Ait-Nouri early in the game as they slipped to a defeat which damages their own hopes of qualifying for Europe.

Villa knew exactly what they had to do after Spurs’ late rally and thought they had made the perfect start when Douglas Luiz forced the ball home after Jose Sa had saved from Watkins, but the England striker was offside and the goal was chalked off.

Wolves should have been celebrating going in front as they spurned a golden chance in the 15th minute.

Santiago Bueno’s cross from the right made it through to an unmarked Ait-Nouri at the far post, but Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez got across brilliantly to deny a certain goal.

Villa began to up the intensity and Watkins had the sort of opportunity he usually gobbles up as Youri Tielemans played him through on goal, but this time he clipped into the side-netting.

Pau Torres then glanced a header straight at Sa before Villa’s dominance was rewarded with a 36th-minute breakthrough.

Luiz’s free-kick was fizzed back across goal by Leon Bailey and, with the aid of a deflection, the ball fell perfectly for Diaby, who lashed home from the edge of the area to end his league drought.

Watkins’ half-time exit disrupted Villa’s fluency after the restart and they needed a huge dollop of luck to double their lead in the 65th minute.

A sweeping move saw the ball played out to Konsa on the overlap and he skewed his chipped cross from the right byline over the head of Sa and in off the far post.

Nicolo Zaniolo, who was the driving force behind the second goal, then had two quickfire chances to kill the game but shot straight at Sa on both occasions.

Villa closed out the game without any issues to register an important win in the race for the top four.

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    Daniel Farke admitted the killer instinct of Blackburn’s Sammie Szmodics was lacking from his Leeds side after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat dealt a blow to their automatic promotion hopes.

    Leeds dominated the Championship encounter at Elland Road but could not turn possession into goals.

    Farke’s side remain third in the table when a win would have seen them seize the initiative from top two Leicester and Ipswich.

    Farke said: “When you face a side like Blackburn with a player like Szmodics, he showed the quality which we didn’t show today and he needed just one chance to score.

    “So many balls went through the box, but you also need to show the quality to put the ball in the net.

    “If you don’t score you have so much more risk. There is also a danger there will be one moment for your opponent and they can score. It’s pretty disappointing and frustrating for us.

    “We didn’t put the ball into the net. If you don’t score, you can’t win the game.”

    Despite his players missing the chance to steal a march on their rivals, Farke refused to put the blame on them.

    He said: “It’s up to me if we don’t score – to find solutions. I have to work with them so that in the next game we create more chances.

    “It’s up to us in training to work on our efficiency and create more chances. Today we have created more than enough chances to score. I’m not the guy to point the finger at the players when we don’t score.

    “If a team fights to survive and fights against relegation, if they try to annoy us with time wasting and whatever, it’s nothing that I can influence.”

    Szmodics dealt the killer blow with a cool finish eight minutes from time as the visitors went route one.

    Sam Gallagher headed on a long ball from Aynsley Pears before Tyrhys Dolan turned and fed Szmodics and he did the rest with a composed finish past Illan Meslier.

    The Leeds goalkeeper had saved from Szmodics with Blackburn’s only effort of the first period, while Pears had saved from Crysencio Summerville, Wilfried Gnonto and Connor Roberts as the home side failed to make their dominance pay.

    Blackburn head coach John Eustace was full of praise for his side.

    He said: “I was very proud of the effort the boys have given me since I came in, it has been outstanding.

    “To come here and play like we did was great. We had a game plan without the ball. I am delighted with the effort and very proud of them.”

    Blackburn bounced back from a 5-0 defeat at Bristol City in midweek and that resilience was what pleased Eustace the most.

    He added: “Wednesday was a bit of a blip. That certainly wasn’t a team that I have been a part of. We have been very difficult to beat.

    “It’s very important that we keep working hard, sticking together. We have three games left and we still need points.”

    Eustace praised Szmodics, adding: “Sammie, without his goals this season, we really would have been in trouble. The rest of the group have created those chances for him.

    “Since I’ve been here he has been magnificent. To score 30 goals in the Championship is a fantastic effort.”

  • Antoine Griezmann bags brace as Atletico Madrid beat Girona Antoine Griezmann bags brace as Atletico Madrid beat Girona

    Antoine Griezmann struck in both halves as Atletico Madrid consolidated fourth spot in LaLiga with a 3-1 victory over rivals Girona.

    The capital club got off to a slow start, falling behind in the fourth minute when a slick move finished with Yangel Herrera rolling through to Yan Couto, whose strike from a narrow angle was turned in at the back post by Artem Dovbyk.

    But they were back on level terms in the 34th minute after Miguel Gutierrez handled in the area, with Griezmann dispatching the resulting penalty despite Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga guessing the right way.

    In the sixth minute of added-on time at the end of the first half, Alvaro Morata kept the ball in play on the left touchline and his cross led to Angel Correa stealing in between two defenders to head home.

    Griezmann then gave Atletico some breathing room in the 50th minute, firing high beyond Gazzaniga after Rodrigo De Paul’s cross had fallen into his path following a deflection from Jhon Solis.

    Atletico are now five points clear of Athletic Bilbao, who are fifth, and moved to within four of third-placed Girona, whose hopes of pipping Barcelona as runners-up suffered a setback.

  • Sammie Szmodics nets late Blackburn winner as Leeds suffer blow in promotion bid Sammie Szmodics nets late Blackburn winner as Leeds suffer blow in promotion bid

    Sammie Szmodics dealt a crushing blow to Leeds’ automatic promotion hopes as Blackburn claimed a late 1-0 Championship win at Elland Road.

    Defeat stopped the home side going top of the table as Rovers defended for long periods of the game.

    Crysencio Summerville, Wilfried Gnonto and Connor Roberts all tested Blackburn goalkeeper Aynsley Pears in a dominant first half for Leeds.

    The home side also had chances after the break but were punished by Szmodics with eight minutes to go.

    Leeds were on the front foot from the off as Joel Piroe’s shot was deflected for a corner.

    Hayden Carter tripped Summerville and his free-kick from a narrow angle was saved by Pears, who also punched away the follow-up shot from Gnonto from the edge of the area.

    The game was being played mostly in Blackburn’s half and Leeds forced two corners in succession with 20 minutes gone – but they were unable to break the deadlock.

    Ethan Ampadu headed a Roberts free-kick off target as Leeds kept up the pressure with nearly half-an-hour on the clock.

    Ilia Gruev missed the best chance so far but his near-post shot from Gnonto’s low ball following a corner did not trouble Pears.

    Roberts was the next to test the Rovers stopper with a curling shot from outside the area which he saved high to his left at the expense of a corner.

    Szmodics forced Illan Meslier into action for the first time from a Blackburn breakaway with the goalkeeper diving low to his left to keep out the shot, five minutes before the break.

    Gruev fired at Pears with the first effort of the second half after Joe Rodon’s vital interception and surging run.

    Gnonto shot wide across the face of goal but with nearly an hour gone, Leeds were still looking for the opening goal.

    Meslier put his side under pressure when his throw went to a Blackburn player but luckily for him when the ball was passed to Joe Rankin-Costello, he fired wide.

    Blackburn sensed a chance and Szmodics crossed low from the right but he could not find a team-mate with the Leeds goal gaping, with Roberts stretching to stop Tyrhys Dolan getting a touch.

    Georginio Rutter’s shot into a crowded area saw Pears dive low to his left then claim the loose ball.

    A cross from Gnonto spun onto the post and then the winger just failed to get a touch to a Dan James cross.

    Substitute Patrick Bamford headed over as Leeds cranked up the pressure and they were made to pay when Szmodics struck the decisive blow, eight minutes from time.

    Sam Gallagher nodded on Pears’ kick, Dolan turned and released his team-mate and Szmodics finished coolly past Meslier.

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