Aston Villa’s tremendous six-game Premier League unbeaten streak finally came to an end as Nottingham Forest were clinical to win 2-0 at The City Ground on Sunday afternoon. Ola Aina’s fierce fifth-minute strike and an Emiliano Martinez-evading Orel Mangala effort were the difference as Steve Cooper’s side claimed a vital three points. Villa dominated possession throughout but were limited going forward in the first half and then showed no cutting edge in the second, missing a whole host of big chances. The men in claret and blue really should’ve gotten themselves back in the game on a number of occasions but hardly tested Odysseas Vlachodimos, much to the anger of Unai Emery on the touchline.
Forest set the tone early as they scored with their very first attack of the game, hitting Villa on the break. Anthony Elanga beat Matty Cash for pace, cut it back to Harry Toffolo and it was played across the edge of the area, where Aina was waiting. There was a synchronous cry of “shoot” from three corners of The City Ground and Aina did as commanded, firing with a tremendous low drive from 25 yards to find the bottom left side netting. The strike evaded the entire Villa back line, who failed to rush out and apply any pressure whatsoever.
Emery’s side regained control of possession after the opener but struggled to penetrate Forest’s defence as the hosts sat in to form a low block. Villa did eventually create a big opportunity as Cash was found by Nicolo Zaniolo in the 20th minute but it was squandered. The Villans right-back darted to the far post to connect with Zaniolo’s dinked ball in but failed to control his effort, seeing the ball fly high and wide into the crowd. Zaniolo then nearly caught out Vlachodimos with a mishit cross but it was just about kept away from the net by the Reds goalkeeper.
A few more decent opportunities were formed before the break but neither side could take advantage. Zaniolo was involved yet again as he was fed in by Moussa Diaby but failed to beat Vlachodimos at his near post. The Italian, despite being off balance, got plenty of power behind his effort but it was saved comfortably. Forest then had a glorious opportunity down the other end of the field as Lucas Digne was caught out of position and Aina was able to breeze past Zaniolo. The Reds goalscorer did brilliantly to advance and cut the ball back to Nicolas Dominguez but the winger leaned back and skied his attempt well over the crossbar.
Villa looked increasingly susceptible to counter-attacks as the exasperation grew at a lack of openings and it proved costly. Within just 60 seconds of play restarting after half time, the Reds made it 2-0 as Mangala pulled the trigger from range and Martinez made a right hash of his attempted save. Ezri Konsa failed to deal with Taiwo Awoniyi in the area and it was then fed back to Mangala on the edge of the box by Toffolo. Mangala opened up his body and got plenty of curl on the shot, forcing Martinez into an awkward stop, so much so that the ball lofted up into the air and fell back down and across the line.
There was a good response from the visitors as they crafted their own openings more regularly from that point on. John McGinn first worked some space effectively and whipped in a delightful cross for Ollie Watkins but the striker failed to get enough on his header, seeing the ball glance wide of the far post. Substitute Leon Bailey was then found around 10 yards from goal by Diaby but the Jamaican got it all wrong, putting the ball well over the bar. Bailey followed on as he had another attempt sail above the woodwork when he tried to meet a Digne cross with his head but misjudged the flight of the ball. More late flurries came for Villa but in the end, it was a rare case of rued missed chances for a usually clinical Emery side. The hosts, meanwhile, were resilient.
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