Dean Smith heaped praise on Ollie Watkins after Aston Villa earned a convincing victory over Crystal Palace despite playing more than half the game with 10 men. Villa led through Bertrand Traoré’s fifth-minute goal when Tyrone Mings was sent off after receiving two yellow cards in quick succession shortly before half-time. But the hosts were much the better side after the break as well and wrapped up a 3-0 win with goals from Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi.
Watkins was a thorn in Palace’s side throughout and was involved in all three goals as well as hitting a post late on. Smith said of the big-money signing from Brentford: “I wanted the Christmas present of a good performance and I certainly got that and a good result as well.
“Our counterattacking 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.
“The only thing missing was a goal. All the lads are very appreciative of the work he’s doing. He deserved more today than three assists.”
For the first goal, Traoré played in Watkins down the right and was on hand to thump the ball into the net when Vicente Guaita parried Watkins’ shot. The 10 men made it 2-0 in the 66th minute. Palace failed to defend an El Ghazi free-kick, Watkins headed against the bar and Hause followed up to score his second league goal for Villa. Guaita clawed the ball out but not before it had crossed the line.
With Palace forced to commit more men forward, Villa looked even more dangerous and, after Watkins had a shot blocked, the impressive winger teed-up El Ghazi for his fourth goal in four games – a fine, curling effort in off the far post.
The negative for Smith was the red card for Mings, meaning he will be suspended for Monday’s visit to Chelsea. Both bookings were for clashes with Wilfried Zaha – the first for some argy-bargy after a foul by the Palace player on John McGinn and the second for a block with his arm.
Smith criticised the referee, Anthony Taylor, saying: “I thought they were very soft. I thought the first one was pathetic. He got attacked by Wilfried Zaha and got a yellow card. The second one it looks like he’s been fouled first. I think the ref has set his tolerance level and, once they do that, they were two soft and frustrating cards really.”
Ross Barkley had been expected to return to the squad after a month out with a hamstring injury but the on-loan Chelsea midfielder was absent once more. Smith said: “He can’t play against Chelsea and it wasn’t worth the risk today. He’s still not 100% with it. But he was very, very close.”
The emotions were very different for Roy Hodgson, who had hoped to see his team bounce back from last weekend’s 7-0 mauling by Liverpool.
Hodgson said: “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 we would create chances.
“It didn’t work out that way. The real saddening factor is this was an opportunity to get something from the game and we weren’t good enough. Aston Villa thoroughly deserved their victory.”
Palace are also back in action on Monday, at home to high-flying Leicester, and Hodgson added: “I don’t think it would be good to dwell on it for any longer than we have to but we do have to look 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.”