Aston Villa prove they can do it without Jack Grealish in win over Leeds

It was a happy return to Elland Road for Anwar El Ghazi who had been sent off in bizarre circumstances on his last visit
Aston Villa prove they can do it without Jack Grealish in win over Leeds

Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins attempts to get the ball ahead of Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier. Picture: Laurence Griffiths/PA


Anwar El Ghazi scored an early winner that continued Aston Villa’s push for European places and proved there is life for manager Dean Smith even without injured Jack Grealish.

Villa coped superbly despite the absence of their playmaker with El Ghazi, who spent six months with Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa when he was in charge of Lille, making the difference after just five minutes.

The goal came from an overhit corner which was kept in by Jacob Ramsey to set up Ollie Watkins for a mis-hit shot that landed at the feet of El Ghazi.

The Dutch midfielder swapped feet skilfully before burying a left-footed effort past Illan Meslier from the corner of the six-yard box.

It was a happy return to Elland Road for El Ghazi who had been sent off on his last visit, a bizarre drawn Championship game between the teams in 2019 that featured Leeds scoring when Villa expected play to stop and Bielsa ordering his team to concede an equaliser.

El Ghazi looked the best bet of Villa adding to that tally, with him trying three other first-half attempts, the best of which was saved well by Meslier’s twisting, acrobatic stop.

But, while Bielsa’s side dominated first-half possession, they were unable to carve out a goal. Indeed, their best chance came after all of 25 seconds when Patrick Bamford’s cross-shot took an awkward bounce and just eluded Raphina at the far post.

On the way to a sixth league defeat at Elland Road this season, Tyler Roberts came closest to equalising with a crisp effort that was too close to Emiliano Martinez who made a strong block in the Villa goal.

And the visitors almost caught their hosts on the counter late in the first half when Roberts gave the ball away to Watkins who sprinted almost the full length of the field before his shot was blocked by Stuart Dallas and easily saved.

In a much more subdued second half, the only glimmer of a chance at either end of the field came in the final minute when Leeds substitute Jack Harrison floated over a cross which Raphina headed down and over.

Leeds (4-1-4-1): Meslier 7; Ayling 6, Llorente 6, Cooper 6, Dallas 7; Struijk 5 (Alioski 53, 6); Costa 5 (Harrison 64, 6), Roberts 5 (Hernandez 71), Klich 6, Raphina 8; Bamford 6. Subs (not used): Casilla, Davis, Gelhardt, Cresswell, Jenkins, Huggins.

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Martinez 7; El Mohamady 6, Konsa 7, Mings 9, Targett 6; McGinn 6, Nakamba 7, Ramsey 6 (Sanson 79); Traore 7, Watkins 6, El Ghazi 8 (Trezeguet 88). Subs (not used): Heaton, Taylor, Luiz, Barkley, Engels, Davis, Hayden.

Referee: P Bankes 7.

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