Aston Villa 6 Brighton 1 - Report
Ollie Watkins hit a hat-trick as Villa blew away Brighton to deliver an early statement of their Premier League ambitions.
The striker produced a scintillating display in front of watching England boss Gareth Southgate to lead his team to a win which sent them above the Seagulls, up to third ahead of the rest of the weekend’s matches.
Watkins scored twice in the opening 21 minutes to put Villa in command before their lead was extended by a Pervis Estupinan own goal.
He then completed his treble midway through the second half after substitute Ansu Fati had briefly brought Brighton back into the match, before Jacob Ramsey and Douglas Luiz struck late for the rampant hosts.
Watkins’ hat-trick was his second of the season after he previously hit three in the Europa Conference League against Hibernian and also took his tally since to 50 goals since joining Villa three years ago.
To add perfect symmetry, this was his second Premier League hat-trick since opening his account for the club with a treble in the famous 7-2 drubbing of Liverpool. This was also Villa’s biggest win in the Premier League since that night in October, 2020.
The fact it came against a Brighton team who had won five of their first six league matches this season made it all the more impressive.
Unai Emery had described this match as a big moment early in the season for his team and they duly delivered a performance which will make the rest of the league sit up and take note. Incredibly, Villa overturned an eight-goal pre-match deficit to the Seagulls to leapfrog them in the table.
While Watkins will rightly grab the headlines, this was a display littered with excellent individual performances and though recent cup defeats to Legia Warsaw and Everton might have sullied Villa’s record, in the league they increasingly look the real deal. This was their fifth win in the opening seven matches and third in a row. They have now won 10 consecutive home matches at Villa Park, dating back to February.
Brighton actually began the brighter and Estupinan really should have done more after getting in behind Villa’s defence to collect Billy Gilmour’s chipped pass. His shot was straight at Emi Martinez and held by the keeper.
But one excellent pass out of defence from Ezri Konsa, which set Moussa Diaby scampering away down the right, seemed to instantly flip the momentum.
Diaby was rather wasteful with that opportunity but a minute or so later Villa were ahead anyway. John McGinn held off his man, slipped in Matty Cash down the right and Watkins diverted the first-time cross into the top corner.
Watkins was suddenly everywhere and after sending a curling effort just wide of Jason Steele’s far post he had his second on 21 minutes.
Joel Veltman’s heavy touch was followed by a lovely one from Diaby to send his forward partner scampering away, Watkins cutting sharply back inside before pulling a finish inside the near upright.
Steele’s dive was laboured and the keeper claimed to have been unsighted by an offside Nicolo Zaniolo but video assistant Stuart Attwell saw no issue.
The VAR also cleared Douglas Luiz of any infringement in the build-up to Villa’s third, five minutes later. The midfielder tumbled into Solly March and Villa won the ball, Watkins crossing for Diaby who saw his first shot blocked and the second, heading wide, strike Estupinan and roll into the net.
Evan Ferguson headed over for the visitors but it was Villa who continued to look the more dangerous, Luiz sending a shot just over the bar.
Brighton were fortunate to only be 3-0 down at the break but within five minutes of the restart they had a foothold back in it as two of their three half-time substitutes combined. Joao Pedro did well to keep the ball in play and when Lucas Digne failed to clear his first cross, he sent the second attempt into the path of Fati at the far post. After an inexorably long VAR check for offside, it stood.
The visitors scented a comeback and for the next 15 minutes home supporters feared one.
Relief came, of course, from Watkins. Picking the ball up in midfield, he first laid it off for McGinn and then advanced to the edge of the box before collecting the return pass and hitting a shot which took a helpful nick off Adam Webster on its way in.
There was still time for Watkins to add an assist, finding Ramsey five minutes from time for the midfielder to curl an effort in off the far post.
When Steele then denied Watkins a fourth deep in stoppage time, Luiz was on hand to roll in the rebound. The Brazilian has now scored in five consecutive home matches.
14 GOAL Ollie Watkins puts Villa ahead, turning home Matty Cash’s cross at close range.
21 GOAL It’s two for Villa and two for Watkins. Diaby’s delightful touch sends him away and he cuts inside before pulling a finish inside the near post.
26 GOAL Villa’s day keeps getting better. Luiz wins the ball in the Brighton half and Watkins squares for Diaby, who sees his first shot blocked and the second deflect in off Pervis Estupinan.
50 GOAL Brighton have one back. Joao Pedro does well to keep the ball in play and when Villa can’t clear he squares for Ansu Fati to tap home.
65 GOAL Watkins has his hat-trick and Villa have their three-goal advantage again. His finish takes a nick off Adam Webster on its way in.
85 GOAL It’s five for Villa. Watkins finds Jacob Ramsey and he curls an effort in off the far post.
90 GOAL Douglas Luiz makes it six, slotting home the rebound after Steele denies Watkins one-on-one.
Villa (4-4-2): Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne, McGinn, Luiz, Kamara (Tielemans 90), Zaniolo (Ramsey 56), Diaby (Duran 79), Watkins Subs not used: Carlos, Traore, Chambers, Lenglet, Dendoncker, Olsen (gk).
Brighton (4-2-3-1): Steele, Veltman, Webster, Dunk ©, Estupinan (Lamptey HT), Gilmour, Hinshelwood, March (Adingra 62), Welbeck (Fati HT), Mitoma, Ferguson (Pedro HT) Subs not used: Julio, Dahoud, Baleba, Van Hecke, Verbruggen (gk).