Tottenham captain Son Heung-min admits recent defeats hurt but has urged the squad to keep playing the Ange Postecoglou way.

Aston Villa produced a comeback win in north London on Sunday to make it a November to forget for Spurs.

Premier League leaders at the start of the month, Tottenham have since suffered three consecutive losses and seen their list of absentees move into double figures.

Spurs went ahead against Villa, like they had in recent defeats to Chelsea and Wolves, but were wasteful in front of goal and also unable to keep up the relentless attacking style Postecoglou wants for the whole match.

“I think especially in this game, when you are 1-0 up, we have to control even more,” Son told SpursPlay.

“We have to respect the (opposition) and we made a couple of mistakes this season where we are going up 1-0 and started playing a little bit slowly.

“Then conceding goals, offsides, delays in the game, this is losing our game tempo a little bit and we are giving chances to Villa to come into the game.

“Before half-time when you concede a goal from a set-piece, I think we have to be more stronger.

“The players gave everything, especially in difficult circumstances. It is just tough to take.


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“It doesn’t matter how well you are playing, obviously in the end you are taking the results and we are talking about the results.

“Yeah, we created chances, good, very good. The way we are playing, I am very pleased and happy but it hurts when you lose a game, especially at home.

“We had such amazing support again and losing this game hurts.”

All the focus at Tottenham now turns to Sunday’s daunting trip to champions Manchester City and Rodrigo Bentancur is an early doubt after he sustained an ankle injury against Villa.

Bentancur made his first start since he suffered a serious knee injury in February and impressed before he was caught by a poor challenge from Matty Cash.

Spurs will have Yves Bissouma back from suspension and will check on Pape Sarr after he returned from Senegal national team duty with a knock, but Postecoglou knows he will be down to the bare bones for a while.

Tottenham boss Postecoglou said: “The reality of it is that we’re not going to get too many back.

“We’ll get Biss back but we might have lost Bentancur. We only had six or seven on the bench so everyone who is here at the moment is going to have to play a part.”

While Tottenham contemplate another defeat, Villa produced a clinical display to move up to fourth in the Premier League after goals by Pau Torres and Ollie Watkins, but Unai Emery played down the current table.

“Enjoy the position and of course the players are aware about where we are, but we will continue being demanding,” Emery said.

“In 38 matches, there are still a lot of things to happen.

“Now we have to rest and think about Thursday (against Legia Warsaw) and then Sunday against Bournemouth.”

Ange Postecoglou remained defiant and insisted Tottenham were on the path to being “a very good football team” despite a 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa consigning them to a third consecutive defeat.

Spurs were without 11 first-teamers but Postecoglou doubled down on his philosophy with a back four containing no centre-backs, several attacking players handed first league starts of the season and no recognised defensive midfielder in the starting line-up.

It initially paid off with Giovani Lo Celso firing Tottenham ahead in the 22nd-minute and while the hosts had 18 shots, three goals disallowed and hit the woodwork twice, Aston Villa punished their profligacy to move above them into the Premier League’s top four.

Postecoglou reflected: “It is just the situation we’re in at the moment, but we’ll get through it.

“It might take a little while, but we’ll get through it and as long as we show the same intent and play the football we did today, I’ve got no doubt when we come out the other side, we’ll be a very good football team.

“We had four full-backs out there so we didn’t really have the height, which we knew would be an issue for us today but you kind of take those calculated risks with the flipside of it being that some of our football was outstanding today.

“I mean some of the goals we could have scored would have ended up being showreels for us in the way we want to play our football, so for me the positives definitely outweigh the negative of the result.

“We’ve just got to make sure the players stay focused on what’s important right now and you need to win games of football to keep yourself in the mix to be in a strong position come the end of the year, but right now we’re still building a side.

“What’s more important is the way forward has to be with what the end goal is in mind and today was about trying to play the football we want to play.

“If we fell short, we fell short but I didn’t think we fell short today. I thought it was just fine margins for us and not getting the rewards.”

To add to Tottenham’s growing issues, Rodrigo Bentancur’s first start since February following a serious knee injury was cut short after he was on the receiving end of a poor first-half tackle by Matty Cash.

“It is his ankle, I think,” Postecoglou revealed. “It wasn’t a great tackle. I thought he started the game so well and I think it was the reason we got a real good foothold on the game.

“He’s such a creative player. It’s the last thing we needed. Another injury, so (I’m) disappointed to lose him, but we’re yet to see the extent of it.”

While Tottenham created chances aplenty, it was visiting Villa who clinched an eighth victory from their last 10 matches after Pau Torres’ header in first-half stoppage-time was backed up by Ollie Watkins’ low effort after 61 minutes.

It pressed home their case as a genuine contender for Champions League qualification but former Arsenal boss Unai Emery insisted there are seven teams ahead of them.

“That was an amazing match,” Emery added.

“I think both teams, different ways tactically but very hard, very tough. They create chances, we create chances and we were efficient and clinical.

“Really I enjoy it but I lost all my energy.

“Of course we can get confidence when we are winning matches like here at Tottenham, but still in my mind, it is 38 matches that we have to be consistent.

“We have to try to get each opportunity with three points and try to get a good position in the table. We are in (the top four) now, but we are not a contender.

“There are seven contenders more than us to be in the top seven, to be in the top four but while we are there, we are going to try to keep (there).”

Ollie Watkins hailed a “massive three points” after Aston Villa came from behind to win 2-1 at Tottenham.

Giovani Lo Celso put Spurs in front after 22 minutes, before Pau Torres headed an equaliser in first-half stoppage time.

England forward Watkins scored a second just after the hour which proved enough to take Villa above their hosts and into the top four.

“They are where they are in the league because of how they’re playing, so a massive three points,” Watkins told Sky Sports.

“It’s unbelievable, a great feeling and we are playing great football, but we’re not getting carried away.

“We’re not even at Christmas yet and we have some tough matches coming up, so we have to keep going.”

It was a third consecutive defeat for Spurs, whose profligacy in front of goal cost them as Villa went on to secure an eighth win from their last 10 matches.

Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou told Sky Sports: “A tough outcome, but I couldn’t be happier with the way the boys played.

“I’m really proud of them. I thought we played some fantastic football and on another day we would have won comfortably. I can’t fault the effort they put into the game.

“There’s no frustration. We played well and as a manager that’s all you can ask for.

“Sometimes the outcomes don’t go the way you want, but as a manager I want the players committed to what we are trying to do and they were all totally committed.

“On another day we would have had a few goals but it was a combination of outstanding goalkeeping and woodwork.

“From my perspective all I can ask is what they gave. The players played an outstanding game of football and as a manager that’s all we can ask for.”

Ollie Watkins fired Aston Villa into the Premier League’s top four with the winner at Tottenham to inflict a third consecutive defeat on the hosts.

Unai Emery’s side came from behind to claim a 2-1 victory and leapfrog Spurs after a thrilling end-to-end contest, with Pau Torres scoring a first-half header and Watkins scoring a second after 61 minutes.

Giovani Lo Celso had drilled Tottenham in front after 22 minutes with Ange Postecoglou’s selection gamble paying dividends at this point, but the hosts’ profligacy in front of goal cost them and Villa secured an eighth win from their last 10 matches.

Hours before the match it was revealed former Spurs player and manager Terry Venables had died and a minute’s applause occurred before kick-off in his memory.

Postecoglou’s team selection could have been out of Venables’ playbook, with the Australian going even more attacking than usual despite 11 first-team players being out, with Eric Dier and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg dropped.

Rodrigo Bentancur, Lo Celso and Bryan Gil all earned first league starts of the season and it could have been 2-2 after five minutes.

First, Villa captain John McGinn’s cutback was too powerful for the unmarked Matty Cash during the opening 60 seconds, then, down the other end, Destiny Udogie was sent clear but he sliced over with his weaker right foot.

Dejan Kulusevski struck a post immediately after from Son Heung-min’s clever through ball and Brennan Johnson’s follow-up was blocked by Torres.

Torres then should have broken the deadlock but he directed his free header wide from McGinn’s free-kick.

The breathless start showed no sign of slowing with a Gil effort saved by Emi Martinez before Son hooked over, although the offside flag was subsequently raised.

Another chance went begging when Pedro Porro’s cutback for Son was intercepted, but Tottenham did finally open the scoring in the 22nd minute.

A Porro corner was cleared out to Lo Celso and his sweet half-volley from the edge of the area took a deflection to leave compatriot Martinez with no chance.

It was Lo Celso’s first Spurs goal in more than two years, but Villa initially produced the perfect response.

Straight from kick-off, Lucas Digne got away down the left and crossed for Watkins to head home.

Villa’s joy was cut short when a three-minute VAR check eventually ruled the England forward had been offside.

The end-to-end nature was abandoned not long after when Bentancur injured his ankle after a poor challenge by Cash.

While Son found the net before half-time it was disallowed for offside and Villa’s growing dominance turned into an equaliser in the 52nd minute of the half.

Douglas Luiz’s free-kick from the touchline picked out Torres and he made no mistake with his header this time to make it 1-1 at the break.

Emery celebrated enthusiastically with his backroom staff but also made a double substitution, with Youri Tielemans and Leon Bailey introduced for the second period.

Bailey almost made an instant impact when his curled effort slipped through Guglielmo Vicario’s grasp but hit a post.

The frantic nature of the contest had returned now, with Johnson inches away from Kulusevski’s cross before Son had another effort ruled out for offside.

Villa remained a threat and not long after McGinn’s long-range lob sailed harmlessly over, they made it 2-1.

Substitute Tielemans was at the heart of it with a quick one-two giving Watkins a sight at goal and the England forward arrowed the ball into the bottom corner with 61 minutes played.

Postecoglou’s side responded strongly, with Porro testing Martinez and Ben Davies heading over from the resulting corner.

Vicario did keep Tottenham in the game with a finger-tip stop to thwart Digne’s free-kick before Martinez was required again, but produced superb saves to deny Johnson and Hojbjerg’s long-range curler.

There was still time for Son to have another goal disallowed after Porro’s initial effort hit a post, but Postecoglou’s side failed to find a late leveller and suffered a third straight loss.

Ange Postecoglou has promised Giovani Lo Celso there will be opportunities for him to turn around his Tottenham career over the coming weeks.

Spurs are without at least nine first-teamers for the visit of Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday.

Yves Bissouma (suspended) and James Maddison (ankle) will definitely miss out and the prolonged absence of the latter has resulted in calls for Lo Celso to be given a first league start for Spurs since 2021.


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Signed four years ago towards the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure, the Argentina international worked with current Villa boss Unai Emery at Villarreal last season, but could get the chance to haunt his old manager this weekend.

“I looked at Gio really well before I got here, both here at Tottenham and his spells at other clubs,” Postecoglou said.

“You can see he has certain qualities. He’s had a disruptive season for us. He’s had a few injuries, he hasn’t really had a clean run at it.

“He’s one of a number of players that has happened to, but you can see technically, he’s a very creative player, he works hard for the team.

“He’ll get an opportunity over the next few weeks to hopefully come in and make an impact.”

While Lo Celso has struggled to make his mark in England, the 27-year-old remains a key figure for his country and started Argentina’s 1-0 win in Brazil on Tuesday.

But Postecoglou admitted: “I don’t think his national-team form is a direct correlation to here. Just like anyone else’s.

“Gio will get an opportunity, particularly over the next few weeks because we are down on numbers and have a fair few games between now and the new year.

“If they’re here, they’ll get an opportunity. That’s all you can offer.”

Lo Celso was heavily linked with a move away in the summer, but Postecoglou made clear from the outset his desire to keep him at Spurs.

Barcelona remain interested in the midfielder and while Tottenham’s injury list makes departures unlikely in January, the Australian conceded now is his chance to cast an eye over the squad.

Postecoglou added: “From my perspective, this is the time when I am getting an opportunity to make all these assessments because if you lump it all into one and look at previous exposure here at the club, that’s not really relevant to me.

“It’s what I see from now on and how the players feel themselves about playing the football that I want and whether they see themselves fitting into that.

“It hasn’t happened by design but I am certainly going to get a good look at everyone.”

Meanwhile, Postecoglou heaped praise on opposite number Emery for turning Villa into top-four contenders inside 12 months.

“I haven’t come across him, but I have been a great admirer of his coaching,” Postecoglou revealed.

“He came over here and the experience (with Arsenal) didn’t deter him in any way. He didn’t lose any belief in who he is as a manager.

“He has turned Villa around very, very quickly and you have got to remember what position they were in.

“I have looked at his teams and they have always been very well organised and structured, with a clear identity.

“And he has transferred that across three different countries. He is a quality manager.”

The Premier League has arguably never been more competitive than it is this season, with just three points separating the division’s top five teams.

Manchester City sit top of the table on 28 points, with Liverpool and Arsenal one behind on 27, Tottenham on 26 and Aston Villa on 25.

It is the first time in Premier League history that five teams have amassed 25 points or more in their first 12 matches.

However, the level of competition extends beyond the top few sides, as demonstrated by several of the weekend’s results including City’s thrilling 4-4 draw at Chelsea and Spurs’ injury-time loss at Wolves.

Just 12 matches into the 2023-24 campaign, it is already possible to create a continuous ‘victory loop’ from English top flight results.

A victory loop is made by arranging results so that Team 1 beats Team 2, Team 2 defeats Team 3, and so on until Team 20 beats Team 1.

Sheff Utd 2 Wolves 1 (Nov 4)
Wolves 2 Tottenham 1 (Nov 11)
Tottenham 2 Liverpool 1 (Sep 30)
Liverpool 3 West Ham 1 (Sep 24)
Brighton 1 West Ham 3 (Aug 26)
Brighton 3 Bournemouth 1 (Sep 24)
Bournemouth 2 Newcastle 0 (Nov 11)
Newcastle 1 Arsenal 0 (Nov 4)
Arsenal 1 Man City 0 (Oct 8)
Man City 2 Nottingham Forest 0 (Sep 23)
Nottingham Forest 2 Aston Villa 0 (Nov 5)
Aston Villa 3 Crystal Palace 1 (Sep 16)
Man Utd 0 Crystal Palace 1 (Sep 30)
Burnley 0 Man Utd 1 (Sep 23)
Luton 1 Burnley 2 (Oct 3)
Everton 1 Luton 2 (Sep 30)
Brentford 1 Everton 3 (Sep 23)
Chelsea 0 Brentford 2 (Oct 28)
Fulham 0 Chelsea 2 (Oct 2)
Fulham 3 Sheff Utd 1 (Oct 7)

Ezri Konsa was always confident his England chance would come.

The Aston Villa defender, who won the Under-20 World Cup in 2017 and also played for England Under-21s, has been brought into the senior set-up for the first time at the age of 26 for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta on Friday and North Macedonia next Monday.

Konsa was a late call-up alongside Cole Palmer and Rico Lewis on Sunday, after James Maddison, Lewis Dunk and Callum Wilson withdrew due to injury.

He told a press conference on Tuesday: “I knew I had a lot to work on in my game. Only recently now, the last two seasons, we’ve excelled at Villa and that part of it has helped me become the player I am today.

“I knew my time would come, but it was just a matter of when. I was patient, and I’m proud and me and my family are really happy.

“I’ve always believed in myself, always backed myself. I’m really enjoying my football now at the moment and the rest is taking care of itself.”

Asked if he saw the Euros as a realistic target, Konsa said: “I think that’s every player’s target, to go to major tournaments and play for your country. So that’s definitely on my mind and definitely something I plan on doing.”

Konsa – who described talk in the past of him potentially switching allegiance to Portugal as “just rumours” – has been congratulated in a message on Instagram on his call-up by former England captain John Terry.

Terry, who worked with Konsa when a coach at Villa, wrote: “Congratulations @ezrikonsa. So happy for you mate, you have been excellent and so consistent over the last three years and fully deserve this. Enjoy it Ez…Just the start.”

And Konsa said: “It means a lot coming from a legend like John Terry.

“I worked with him for two years and he really helped my game. I used to ask him a lot of questions on how he was able to maintain playing at such a high level, and he gave me a lot of advice and I definitely took that on and it’s helped me become the player I am.

“He was in touch with me, sent me a nice little message. He just said congratulations, that I need to enjoy it and be myself.”

On the moment he received notification that Gareth Southgate had called him up, Konsa said: “I was driving home from the match on Sunday (Villa’s 3-1 win against Fulham) and me and the missus were talking about having a little break, going away – and then two minutes later I ended up getting the call!

“It was a weird feeling, it didn’t really sink in until I got home. I think my missus was crying a little bit, she was more excited that me. I’d rather be here anyway, so it’s fine.”

Midfielder Jude Bellingham and defender Levi Colwill are the latest pair to withdraw from the squad after they sat out games for Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively over the weekend with shoulder problems.

Southgate has resisted any temptation to bring in any other players to replace Bellingham and Colwill, leaving him with a 23-man squad for the home game against Malta and the trip to North Macedonia.

England are already assured on their place at next summer’s Euro 2024 finals in Germany but Southgate wants to be a top seed when the draw is made in Hamburg next month so victory in both games remains a key target.

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery has heaped praise on skipper John McGinn, describing the midfielder as a “very good example” for other players.

Sunday’s 3-1 home win over Fulham saw McGinn put Villa 2-0 up just before the interval with a fine strike from 20 yards, then help create the hosts’ third, scored by Ollie Watkins in the 64th minute.

The Scotland international has netted three times and provided two assists for fifth-placed Villa in the Premier League so far this term and has also scored twice in the Europa Conference League.

Emery said of McGinn, who has been with the club since 2018: “He is himself very demanding.

“He is competitive, he always is ready to play, physically as well. I think when he is not training or playing he is resting – his energy always is full.

“He is a very good example, of how he is consistent and trying to help and to be an example, a very good example for players.

“I really, really appreciate a lot as a person how he is, but as a professional, he is fantastic.

“His connection here, his commitment here for a long time, with the supporters, with Aston Villa, with the project that is here, and he came here when they were in the Championship…I think he’s one of the players I really appreciate and really need to be an example for others.”

The result at Villa Park meant Emery’s side – a point outside the top four and only three off the top – made it six wins out of six at home in the league this season and equal the post-war club record for successive top-flight home victories, matching the 13 in a row achieved in 1983.

Prior to McGinn and Watkins’ efforts, the hosts had taken the lead in the 27th minute via an Antonee Robinson own goal.

Fulham reduced the deficit with 20 minutes of normal time to go when Raul Jimenez, who had seen a shot tipped against a post by Emiliano Martinez early in the second half, opened his account for the club.

It was a first league goal for the Mexico international, signed from Wolves in the summer, since March 2022.

Fulham boss Marco Silva, whose side are 16th in the table after a third defeat in four league games, said the goal would be a weight off Jimenez’s shoulders.

He said: “For sure it’s going to be not so heavy for the next time that he’s going to be on the pitch.

“It’s a tough one, it’s a long time without scoring in the Premier League. Unfortunately for us, it didn’t give the chance for us to add points with his goal.

“But I’m sure if he keeps working like he’s doing, and trying to do his best, and we keep delivering for him as well, in the future he’s going to score (goals) that can count towards points for us.”

Jimenez, whose former club are Fulham’s first opponents after the international break, told the Cottagers’ official website: “Of course it’s always nice to score my first goal in the Premier League in a long time, and first goal for Fulham.

“I’m really happy for that, but obviously the result is not what we wanted and I want to keep doing this, keep scoring, and help the team to get better.

“This needs to be the goal that opens the bottle. I need to keep going and it’s going to be a special game for me, that next game (against Wolves), and I want to do my best.”

Unai Emery stressed the importance of Aston Villa remaining consistent as the season goes on after the 3-1 win over Fulham.

The result at Villa Park saw the midlands outfit make it six wins out of six at home in the Premier League this season and equal the post-war club record for successive top-flight home victories, matching the 13 in a row achieved in 1983.

Boss Emery, whose fifth-placed side are a point outside the top four, said: “We are now (on league match) 12 – there are still 26 matches to play.

“It’s a lot and of course to be consistent is the most important thing, when you are trying to build and to create a team and a structure and mentality.

“It’s the reason of course we can maintain the position like we are now, but it’s going to be very difficult and a challenge. We are going to face each match trying to focus (on) it.

“Now we are in the top five, it’s I think a moment to enjoy, to be happy – and to try to analyse, even now winning, how we can improve, how we can keep being consistent.”

Marking a return to winning ways in the league after last Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest, this result was a second home triumph in four days for Villa, with Emery’s men having defeated AZ Alkmaar 2-1 in the Europa Conference League on Thursday to leave them on the brink of qualifying from their group.

They were two up at the break against Fulham following an Antonee Robinson own-goal and a 42nd-minute strike from skipper John McGinn, while Ollie Watkins subsequently added a third in the 64th minute for his 11th goal of the season in all competitions.

Raul Jimenez, who had seen a shot tipped against a post by Emiliano Martinez early in the second half, pulled a goal back for the visitors in the 70th minute – the former Wolves man’s first Premier League goal since March 2022.

Emery said: “At home, we are feeling very good here. We are connected with our supporters, trying to (have) full, positive energy, and… in each circumstance we are trying to adapt, improving the team, the players, our tactical work. I think it is going well.

“Here, for example, I think the first half was a very good first half. We created chances, but overall we controlled the game, avoiding the transition. It was fantastic.

“The second half was more hard. They scored one goal, had chances and were trying to work, thinking about the possibility to come back, and we avoided it.”

Villa resume after the international break with away games against Tottenham and Bournemouth, either side of a Europa Conference League home match against Legia Warsaw, and then host Manchester City and Arsenal in the league.

Emery added: “Of course I am happy and I can take my days off as well relaxing with the result we had, with the moment we are now in the table, and in the Conference (League) as well.

“But I know full well each match is a new challenge, and I am going to take some days resting, but of course my mind is in Tottenham, and in Bournemouth, and in Legia Warsaw, and in Villa Park again with Manchester City and Arsenal.”

Aston Villa registered their 13th Premier League home win on the bounce as Unai Emery’s men beat Fulham 3-1.

Villa were two goals up at the break following an Antonee Robinson own-goal and a strike from skipper John McGinn.

Fulham came close early in the second half when Emiliano Martinez tipped a Raul Jimenez shot against a post before Ollie Watkins added a third for the hosts with a 64th-minute finish.

Jimenez pulled a goal back for the visitors, but Villa were not to be denied as they equalled the post-war club record for successive top-flight home victories, matching the 13 in a row achieved in 1983.

Emery’s side have scored at least three times in each of their Villa Park wins this season, with the total being 23 goals for the midlands outfit across the six games.

It was also a return to winning ways in the league after last Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest, since when they had defeated AZ Alkmaar 2-1 at home in the Europa Conference League.

While fifth-placed Villa are a point outside the top four, Marco Silva’s Fulham are 16th after their winless run in the league extended to a fourth game.

The home side made a lively start to the contest and after Moussa Diaby had a sixth-minute effort saved by Bernd Leno, another Villa attack moments later saw Watkins’ shot come off Timothy Castagne and referee Simon Hooper award a penalty.

However, VAR intervened and with Hooper having surveyed footage pitchside, the handball decision was overturned.

Martinez was then called into action to keep out an Andreas Pereira strike, although the flag was up for offside, before Emery’s men pushed forward again and took the lead in the 27th minute.

Youri Tielemans, making his first league start for Villa, curled a delivery from the left towards Diaby and the ball went off Robinson into the net – the defender’s second own-goal of the season, having also scored one in Fulham’s win against Sheffield United last month.

As Villa sought a second, Matty Cash was denied by Leno, and the advantage was doubled in the 42nd minute as McGinn collected the ball from a Robinson header, took a touch to move away from Joao Palhinha and fired in from just outside the box.

Fulham started well after the interval and almost reduced the deficit three minutes in when a Martinez touch diverted Jimenez’s strike against a post, with Willian shooting over on the follow-up.

There was also a shot just wide of the near post from Willian, but soon after Villa made it 3-0 as Leon Bailey, just off the bench, crossed and Watkins sidefooted in his 11th club goal of the season in all competitions.

Jimenez produced a similar finish, teed up by Robinson in the 70th minute, to open his Fulham account – his first Premier League goal since March 2022.

Substitute Carlos Vinicius thought he had scored another for Fulham in the 81st minute when he went around Martinez and slotted in, but he was flagged offside, before the ball hit the Fulham bar off Palhinha and Watkins headed the loose ball wide when looking certain to score – a surprising miss that mattered little come the final whistle.

Boss Unai Emery admitted Aston Villa got lucky after fighting back to beat AZ Alkmaar.

Ollie Watkins’ winner put them on the brink of qualification in the Europa Conference League after a 2-1 home win.

Yet, the fightback started in controversial fashion when Diego Carlos levelled after Boubacar Kamara had blazed over and referee Luis Godinho mistakenly awarded Villa a corner.

Vangelis Pavlidis gave the hosts a deserved lead but last year’s semi-finalists are now facing an early exit.

Villa are second, behind Legia Warsaw on head-to-head, and a point from their final two games will seal progress from Group E.

Emery said: “It was a very good chance for Kamara, it was fantastic, but it was not a corner, it’s clear, and after this mistake we score.

“I’m very happy because when we are winning a game like tonight we can understand this competition better and the processes we’re trying to build.

“I’m very proud of our work in this competition. We’re getting better.

“We scored one that was offside more or less. We have to accept the referee’s decision, always.

“I’m very proud of our work in this competition. We’re getting better. AZ are a very good team. I’m very happy. The reaction when they scored the goal was fantastic.”

Villa started brightly and Clement Lenglet headed in Leon Bailey’s cross – after Pavlidis blocked Watkins’ goalbound header – only for the winger to have been ruled offside.

Yet the hosts lost their way as the half wore on, Pavlidis tried to lob Emi Martinez and Alkmaar finished on top with Pavlidis testing Martinez.

It turned out the striker was just getting his eye in as he opened the scoring six minutes into the second half.

Villa were caught out by Riechedly Bazoer’s ball over the top and Pavlidis outpaced Lenglet to beat Martinez.

The hosts were not behind for long, though, when Diego Carlos nodded in Bailey’s corner – after the officials had missed it was Kamara who blazed over from six yards.

Villa had the initiative and it was no surprise when Watkins popped up with the winner with nine minutes left, nodding in Douglas Luiz’s clever pass.

Alkmaar boss Pascal Jensen said: “The interesting thing I was looking at was can we compete better in the first game (a 4-1 loss)? In Alkmaar we lost because we conceded two easy goals.

“I was a bit shocked when we started off, we conceded an early goal and we were fortunate it was disallowed. We were very unfortunate to concede a corner which wasn’t, they scored from it and the whole stadium woke up.

“I contacted the fourth official and I asked him and he said ‘I don’t know.’ I think in international competition VAR can come on the radio and help but he didn’t. With all the technology and extra eyes it shouldn’t be possible.”

Ollie Watkins came to Aston Villa’s rescue as Unai Emery’s side hit back to beat AZ Alkmaar.

The striker celebrated his England call-up to nod in with nine minutes left for a 2-1 win and put Villa on the brink of the Europa Conference League knockout stages.

Diego Carlos’ controversial goal – heading in a corner which should have never been given – quickly cancelled out Vangelis Pavlidis’ opener.

Victory left Villa joint-top of Group E, behind Legia Warsaw on their head-to-head record, knowing a point from their final two games would guarantee progress.

Legia’s 2-0 win over Zrinjski Mostar earlier on Thursday had put the Polish side three points clear in the group.

Villa knew victory would virtually secure second spot and their superiority was telling early, the hosts thinking they had the lead after just three minutes.

Ezri Konsa’s shot was deflected behind and, from the corner, Watkins header was cleared off the line by Pavlidis. The ball ran to Leon Bailey and his cross was nodded in by Clement Lenglet – only for VAR to rule the goal out with Bailey offside.

Lenglet almost gifted Alkmaar an opener, though, when Pavlidis seized on his loose pass and tried to lob Emi Martinez before horribly misjudging Ibrahim Sadiq’s superb cross.

Mat Ryan tipped Youri Tielemans’ shot behind as Villa looked to regain some momentum but there would have been frustration for Emery as their early edge slipped away.

Alkmaar even had their own goal disallowed three minutes before the break when a neat move ended with Pavlidis tapping in, although the striker was comfortably offside.

The striker then tested Martinez after Villa played themselves into trouble as the visitors ended the half on top.

It proved a warning sign as, six minutes into the second half, the striker opened the scoring with a goal of pure simplicity.

Villa were caught out by Riechedly Bazoer’s ball over the top as Pavlidis ran clear of Lengent and beat Martinez for his 15th goal of the season.

Alkmaar had something to cling to, having been 3-0 down at the same stage in the Netherlands two weeks ago, and Yuki Sugawara’s shot deflected wide.

Yet Villa contentiously levelled after an hour. Lucas Digne’s cross was blazed over by Boubacar Kamara but referee Luis Godinho inexplicably gave a corner.

Somewhat inevitably, when Bailey delivered the ball Diego Carlos nodded in.

It gave Villa renewed confidence and, with time running out, Watkins grabbed the winner when he stole in ahead of Jordy Clasie to nod in Douglas Luiz’s fine pass.

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery knows his side missed the opportunity to show they can be contenders at the top end of the Premier League after going down 2-0 at Nottingham Forest.

Villa were below their best as they lost for the first time in six games as Forest won thanks to goals from Ola Aina and Orel Mangala.

Emery’s side, who have enjoyed an excellent start to the season, could have moved above Arsenal and into the top four, but they fluffed their lines.

“Today was a key moment, if we could really be a contender to be in the top seven teams and we lost the opportunity,” Emery said. “I believe in the players, I know they can but we have to be very demanding. We can’t concede chances like we did today.

“If we want to be in the top seven teams we have to try to reduce the mistakes we made today.

“The key moment in 38 matches is every match. Today was a key moment to take some distance with the other teams and get in the top-four positions but we lost this opportunity, now the next match against Fulham next week is a challenge and it is again a key moment.”

Forest took a fifth-minute lead when Aina converted from 20 yards and they doubled their lead after a rare Emiliano Martinez error shortly after restart.

The Argentina World Cup winner won the Yashin Trophy, effectively making him the best goalkeeper in the world, at last week’s Ballon D’Or, but this effort will not be winning him any awards after he could only palm Martinez’s effort into his own net.

Emery added: “We are human and we can make a mistake. I never punish the mistakes of the players because I want to try to get the confidence of everybody, practising, trying to do everything well and when we are facing other teams we have to be better than them.

“But never punishing mistakes, not only for Emiliano, for everybody.”

Forest won for the first time since September 2 with an impressive performance where boss Steve Cooper won the tactical battle against Emery.

Villa played with a high line and Forest exposed them with their pace.

Cooper said: “The players massively followed the game plan. I said to them, I’ve got real gratitude to them for committing to the plan we put in place.

“We came up against a really in-form team with loads of good players and an excellent manager. You have to respect them, but you have to look at a plan where you can win.

“I’m really pleased that the goals we scored were from how we thought we could create chances. Once you get there, you want the players to back themselves to convert.

“Even though they had a lot of the ball, I never really thought we would concede. I never felt the goal was getting peppered. Defensively, we were excellent, both tactically and our defensive intuition backed up with desire and commitment.

“I’m really pleased with the players. They showed a great attitude to the plan. It was an incredible atmosphere to support the players’ performance. I thought today was a really good example of what we’ve become over the last couple of years, and I think that needs a bit of recognition.”

Nottingham Forest ended their six-match winless streak in style as they beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the Premier League at the City Ground.

Forest had not won since beating Chelsea way back on September 2 and the pressure had begun to grow on boss Steve Cooper as they slipped down the table.

But goals from Ola Aina and Orel Mangala lifted the gloom and the performance was a reminder that they are a different proposition to the side that narrowly avoided relegation last season.

They showed in the first 50 minutes in particular how good they can be as Cooper won the tactical battle with Unai Emery.

Villa’s high line was repeatedly exposed and, after also misfiring in attack, they lost for the first time in six games, which will temper expectations that a top-four challenge is possible.

Forest were quick out of the blocks and the fast start was rewarded with a fifth-minute lead.

Anthony Elanga was set free down the left and he teed it up for Harry Toffolo to pull it back across goal, straight into the path of Aina, who met it with a delicious side-footed effort that fizzed into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

That provided Forest with a platform and they were denied the opportunity to score a second after Nicolas Dominguez robbed Boubacar Kamara and Taiwo Awoniyi went in on goal, but referee Jarred Gillett generously blew up for a foul.

Villa looked vulnerable to Forest’s pace but the hosts’ execution when picking through balls let them down.

The visitors briefly came into the game and tested debutant goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos for the first time in 36th minute as Moussa Diaby picked out Nicolo Zaniolo at the far post, but the Italian’s drilled effort hit the legs of Vlachodimos.

Soon after Forest had a fine chance to double their lead as Aina raced clear down the right and pulled it back for Gonzalez, but the Argentinian blazed over from 12 yards.

But Forest did strengthen their advantage just 69 seconds after the restart, though Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez will not want to watch it again.

The hosts broke down the left, with the ball ending up with Mangala 20 yards out and the Belgian produced a swerving shot which Martinez got a hand to, but he could only palm it upwards and the spin carried the ball over the line.

The Argentina World Cup winner won the Yashin Trophy, effectively making him the best goalkeeper in the world, at last week’s Ballon D’Or, but this effort will not be winning him any awards.

It was perfect timing as the goal was immediately followed by a minute’s applause for Nottingham Panthers ice hockey player Adam Johnson, who tragically died after a horror accident while playing against the Sheffield Steelers last week.

Dominguez had an excellent chance to make it three shortly after but he shot straight at Martinez, who made a better fist of this save.

They could have done with that going in as, with memories of their last home game against Luton fresh in their mind, they saw Villa up the ante.

For the first time in the match Emery’s side began to look threatening, with Ollie Watkins not getting enough contact on a header from close range, Diaby being denied by Vlachadimos and Leon Bailey heading over.

Remi Garde was announced as Aston Villa’s new manager on this day in 2015.

The former Lyon boss signed a contract until 2019 – but he lasted only 23 games and oversaw just three wins.

Villa were bottom of the league having lost their previous six games and had sacked Tim Sherwood in October.

Garde, Villa’s fifth manager in five years, said: “It is an unbelievable honour to be the manager of such an illustrious football club.

“I’ve had extremely positive meetings with both the owner, Randy Lerner, and chief executive Tom Fox. They have ambitious plans for the club and I’m excited that they have turned to me to help them realise them.

“Obviously we have a difficult task in front of us but I’m looking forward to the challenge with the support of everyone who loves Aston Villa.”

Garde’s first match in charge was an encouraging goalless draw at home to Premier League leaders Manchester City.

However, just 147 days later the Frenchman departed after six successive defeats.

Garde’s last game in charge was a 1-0 defeat at Swansea on March 19, a result which left Villa 12 points from safety with seven matches remaining.

The club were relegated at the end of the season for the first time in 29 years.

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