Aston Villa’s impressive progress from relegation strugglers to the top six is down to the “maturity” of the players, says boss Dean Smith.
Villa overcame Tyrone Mings’ first-half dismissal to see off disappointing Crystal Palace comfortably and move to within three points of second-placed Leicester City.
Smith’s side were leading 1-0 when Mings was dismissed by referee Anthony Taylor for a foul on Wilfried Zaha – six minutes after both players had been booked for clashing.
But Mings’ loss galvanised Villa, who went on to score two further goals to make it three wins in four games.
“It was a tremendous performance,” said Smith, who side only secured their Premier League future on the final day of the 2019-20 season.
“After going down to 10 men, I thought our counter-attacking looked scary at times.
“It’s important to get the balance right, in terms of when to attack and when to press, especially after going down to 10 men. I thought we did that really well. There’s a maturity to the players now and we have come a long way in a short space of time.”
In an incident-packed game, Villa claimed an eighth clean sheet of 2020-21.
Burkina Faso winger Bertrand Traore, who also hit the post, put his side ahead after Vicente Guaita had beaten away an attempt by the impressive Ollie Watkins.
Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez had set the tone for an entertaining match with a fine save to keep out Zaha in the opening minute, while Guaita twice denied Anwar El Ghazi as well as Jack Grealish.
Palace looked to take advantage of Mings’ dismissal but instead conceded two further goals.
Defender Kortney Hause nodded the second after Watkins’ header had rebounded off the bar before Dutch winger Anwar El Ghazi lashed home the third with a quality finish.
Hard-working Villa look the business
Villa managed 35 points in their first season back in the top flight but their latest victory, built on grit and a steely determination not to let Mings’ red card disrupt them, leaves them on 25 points after just 13 games.
Their latest win came despite England defender Mings being given his marching orders after sticking out an arm to block Zaha’s attempt to get away from him, not long after the pair had clashed following a challenge.
“I thought the first yellow card was pathetic,” added Smith. “Tyrone is stopping himself from getting attacked and gets a yellow card for it. With the second one, it looks like there is a foul just before Tyrone commits the foul – so they are two very soft yellow cards.”
Not that losing a player appears to throw Smith’s team very much. Villa have now won the past two Premier League games in which they have finished with 10 men, having earned a 1-0 victory at Wolves on 12 December after the dismissal of midfielder Douglas Luiz.
Former Chelsea player Traore was excellent before he was substituted earlier than planned following Mings’ dismissal, while the hard-working Watkins twice hit the woodwork and El Ghazi produced a moment of pure class with his goal.
Villa’s recruitment has been impressive. Traore has looked an excellent piece of business, having joined for £17m from Lyon in September, while Martinez – who also cost £17m, from Arsenal – continues to impress in each game.
With his side down to 10 men, Martinez produced a big save to keep out Luka Milivojevic’s deflected attempt as Villa claimed a fourth clean sheet in a row, their best run in the top flight since February 2010.
Bruising week for Palace
Roy Hodgson’s side had been hammered 7-0 by Liverpool at Selhurst Park seven days earlier, so this result and performance capped a bruising week.
Hodgson has now moved into the top 10 on the list of those to have faced the most Premier League games as a manager – this was his 341st match. But the former England boss had little to celebrate, and looked miserable by the end.
Palace started well after Zaha embarrassed Mings with his pace only for Martinez to produce an excellent stop.
But their defensive frailties were once again exposed while they were unable to take advantage of the Villa defender’s dismissal.
Without a top-flight clean sheet since the opening weekend of the season, Palace have now lost four of their past seven matches and face high-flying Leicester in two days.
“We do have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what have we done wrong, what clear mistakes have been made, and try to find a way around that in two days’ time,” said Hodgson.
‘Perfect Christmas present’
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: “I wanted the Christmas present of a good performance and I certainly got that and a good result as well.
“Our counter-attacking threat was there for all to see. We created numerous opportunities.
“Unfortunately Tyrone gets sent off but I said at half-time there was nobody better to lead the line with 10 men than Ollie Watkins and I thought he was outstanding.”
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson: “I didn’t see the 3-0 coming. I thought at half-time we’d shown enough to suggest we had enough to get back in the game.
“When Mings was sent off, there was even more reason to think that we would create some chances. It didn’t work out that way.”
Villa’s Boxing Day red card record to forget – the stats
Aston Villa received their fourth red card on 26 December in the Premier League, more than any other side in the competition (also Andy Townsend in 1994, Michael Oakes in 1998 and Zat Knight in 2007).
Crystal Palace are without a clean sheet in their past 14 Premier League games, their longest run without a shutout in the competition since November 2017 (also 14).
Bertrand Traore has scored in each of his past two Premier League games – his tally of two goals being as many as he managed in his 19 previous appearances in the competition.
Kortney Hause’s eight goals in English League football have come across seven different seasons, since his debut in 2012-13.
Anwar El Ghazi has struck four goals in his past four Premier League appearances, as many as he managed in his previous 37 games in the competition.
Both teams have a short turnaround before they are back in action on Monday, with Aston Villa away at Chelsea (17:30 GMT) and Crystal Palace hosting Leicester City at 15:00.
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