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Watkins double helps Villa edge ahead in top-four race

Aston Villa took advantage of Tottenham’s slip against Wolves to climb back into the Premier League top four with a 2-1 win away at Fulham.

Ollie Watkins scored a clinical opener midway through the first half, during which both teams had a goal ruled out, and doubled his tally with a cool second after he had been found by Youri Tielemans.

Fulham did pull one back just after the hour, when the in-form Rodrigo Muniz nipped in to scored his fourth goal in his last three outings.

That ignited the crowd at a chilly Craven Cottage, but it was not enough to spark a comeback to prevent a fifth defeat in nine league games.

They stay in 12th, while Unai Emery’s Villa establish a two-point lead over fifth-placed Spurs and an eight-point advantage over Man Utd in sixth.

How Watkins got Villa back on track

The ball was in the net inside the first two minutes at Craven Cottage. Watkins latched onto a defence-splitting ball and beat Bernd Leno at his near post, before the linesman’s flag swiftly ended any celebrations in the packed Villa away end.

Midway through the half, Tim Ream thought he had given Fulham the lead when he controlled the ball and finished like a seasoned striker, but a VAR review confirmed an offside in the build-up and denied him a first goal since September.

From the attack that followed, Villa took the lead. Jacob Ramsey’s touch ricocheted off Willian, allowing him to find Watkins, who turned away from Issa Diop and fired a clinical finish into the bottom left corner.

Only the crossbar prevented Leon Bailey from doubling the visitors’ lead in style soon after – and VAR came to the Cottagers’ rescue just before the break, confirming the decision to chalk off Alex Moreno’s header after the Spaniard strayed marginally offside.

Team news

  • Marco Silva named the same starting line-up as he did for Fulham’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth last time out.
  • Alex Iwobi and Calvin Bassey returned from AFCON duty with Nigeria earlier in the week and were both named on the bench.
  • For Villa, there were two changes following the defeat to Manchester United.
  • Pau Torres replaced the injured Diego Carlos for his first appearance since December 30, with Youri Tielemans in for Boubacar Kamara, who will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury.

Fulham lack of creativity was highlighted after the break – and soon punished, too. On 56 minutes, Tielemans played a sumptuous ball through to Watkins, who smashed home with aplomb after losing his man, taking his tally for the season to 18 in all competitions.

The hosts did find a way back in, when Muniz finished well at the near post after Antonee Robinson’s square ball following a tireless run down the left caused a breakdown in communications among the Villa defence.

Did you know?

In taking charge of this match, Lewis Smith, 30, became the youngest referee to take charge of a Premier League fixture since Michael Oliver did so for Birmingham vs Blackburn in August 2010, when he was 25.

Fulham had their tails up towards the end, and might have earned a priceless equaliser had Emi Martinez not come from his line to keep out a shot from the lightning quick Adama Traore to preserve the three points for Villa, who are right where they want to be.

What’s next?

Both teams are back in Premier League action at 3pm on Saturday February 24.

Fulham travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United, while Aston Villa host Nottingham Forest at Villa Park.

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