Aston Villa manager Dean Smith insisted he has one of the best pressing forwards in the league before endorsing his England hopes.
Aston Villa leapfrogged Arsenal and Leeds into ninth position after emerging victorious in one of the most entertaining contests of the season. Both sides went toe-to-toe for the first hour, with Villa forcing Jordan Pickford into a series of superb stops.
The woodwork also conspired to keep Villa strikes out on two occasions, though a late stunner from Anwar El Ghazi would ultimately prove decisive after each team’s centre-forward had notched in the first half.
Speaking to BT Sport after the match, Smith said: “It was a good win. It was a really good game of football and both teams tried to win. I think we deserved it on the balance of chances. Jordan Pickford was in really good form and denied Ollie Watkins time and time again.
“It’s easy for people to say we haven’t got anything to play for but we want to finish as high as we can. We want to regain that momentum and consistency we had earlier in the season.”
The ability of forwards to lead the press has become invaluable in the modern game, most recently typified by Roberto Firmino in his prime at Liverpool.
Ollie Watkins displayed this ability to great effect in the first-half, carving out a goal single-handedly after dispossessing Mason Holgate in a dangerous area.
“I’ve said it before but for me Ollie Watkins is one of the best pressing forwards in the Premier League,” said Smith. “I had no doubts he could come and do this in the Premier League.
“He is better than he was. He would go home and beat himself up but he gets over that a lot more now and learns. He is a really humble guy and is getting his rewards now.”
On Watkins’ England chances, Smith added: “That will be up to Gareth Southgate but he has seen first hand what he’s got in the last squad. If he trained like he does at Aston Villa he would have certainly impressed.”
Watkins sets sights on European charge
Aston Villa striker Watkins also spoke to the press, telling Sky Sports: “It’s been a long time coming. We haven’t been playing too well of late, so it was nice to get three points away from home.
“I think I could have done better with a few chances. I should be leaving the pitch with two or three goals, but the most important thing is we got the three points.
“I think any striker will say they can do a little better with the chances I had. I just have to keep working on it. No matter who’s watching, you just have to work hard and do your best.”
Regarding his his England hopes after Gareth Southgate was spotted watching in the stands, Watskins added: “Any international game is magical.
“I’m just focusing on my club form now, trying to push us into the European spots. I think it’s a possibility. Games are coming thick and fast now. If we get a couple of wins it puts us right back up there.”