BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Aston Villa strengthened its grip on fourth place in the Premier League with a pulsating 4-2 win over Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

Villa has its sights firmly set on Champions League qualification and a first home league win of 2024 saw the team move five points clear of Tottenham in fifth and eight above Manchester United in sixth.

Ollie Watkins' fourth-minute opener and two goals from Douglas Luiz saw Villa cruise into a 3-0 lead, only for Forest to scare the hosts with goals either side of halftime through Moussa Niakhate and Morgan Gibbs-White.

Leon Bailey struck on the hour to give Villa breathing space and Unai Emery's team saw the game out to earn a cushion over the chasing clubs in the standings.

Forest was lucky still to be in the game at halftime after being overrun in the first 40 minutes but improved after the break and had enough chances to scrape a point, which would have been handy in its battle against relegation.

Villa needed less than four minutes to go in front as Watkins scored his 14th of the season. This was one of his easiest finishes, though, thanks to the work of Bailey, who gave him a simple tap-in after being played in down the right and making light work of Murillo.

Villa’s second goal came just before the half-hour mark and again was built on the right as Matty Cash passed to Jacob Ramsey, who teed up Luiz to sweep into the corner.

Forest captain Gibbs-White summoned his team for a huddle and gave an impassioned speech, but it had little impact as Villa went 3-0 up in the 39th minute.

John McGinn sent in a delightful cross from a recycled corner for Luiz to plant a free header into the corner for his second of the match.

Forest pulled a goal back in first-half stoppage time as Taiwo Awoniyi headed a corner back across goal and Niakhate chested the ball over the line from close range.

The visitors made three changes at halftime and it had the perfect impact as they made it 3-2 shortly after the restart when substitute Divock Origi slipped Gibbs-White through and he clipped over goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Moments later, it should have been 3-3 as Anthony Elanga was sent clear by Origi but dragged his shot wide.

Villa took control again on the hour mark to make it 4-2 when Youri Tielemans slipped in Watkins. When goalkeeper Matz Selz came out to block the loose ball, it fell to Bailey who had a simple tap-in.


AP soccer:

© 2024 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved., source Canadian Press DataFile