Express & Star

Aston Villa 4 Nottingham Forest 2 - Report

Villa survived a mid-match wobble to beat Nottingham Forest and move five points clear in the Premier League top four.


Unai Emery’s men looked to be cruising when they went 3-0 up inside 40 minutes through Ollie Watkins and a Douglas Luiz brace.

But Forest struck twice either side of half-time through Moussa Niakhate and Morgan Gibbs-White to bring the match back to life.

Leon Bailey then netted to restore some breathing space as Villa won back-to-back league matches for the first time in December.


This was also their first home win of 2024, though it ended up being a much nervier affair than looked likely during a largely excellent first half.

Forest’s quickfire double, either side of Villa losing Pau Torres to injury at the break, briefly transformed the mood and Anthony Elanga missed a chance to level before Bailey eased nerves by scoring on the hour mark.

Villa were deserved winners despite their lapses and they were further boosted by Manchester United, their rivals in the race for Champions League football, losing 2-1 at home to Fulham. The gap to sixth-placed United is now eight points with Tottenham, who do not play this weekend, five points back but with a match in hand.

Torres’ exit, however, is cause for concern. The Spain international had only recently returned from two months out with an ankle injury and his loss here at half-time saw Calum Chambers, told he was surplus to requirements during the January transfer window, get his first Premier League minutes of the season.

The only change to either team from their previous matches was the inclusion of Niakhate at left-back for Forest in place of the injured Nuno Tavares.

It was that area of the pitch Villa quickly made dividends. John McGinn picked out the run of Bailey behind Niakhate and he showed quick feet to jink inside Murillo and square for Watkins to tap home from three yards out.

It was a sublime piece of skill from Bailey and Murillo’s afternoon got worse when he was then booked for hauling down Douglas Luiz.

Villa were moving the ball impressively. Another sharp move ended with Jacob Ramsey pulling the ball back for Watkins, Niakhate getting in the way of the goalbound shot.

Sels then denied Bailey at his near post after Villa had worked play from left to right before staying alert to beat away a speculative but well-struck Tielemans’ effort.

Most of the trouble for Forest was down their left and it was again that route where Villa got their second.

This time Bailey played the pass in to Cash, who pulled the ball back for Ramsey to do likewise for Luiz, who whipped a low finish into the bottom corner.

It was the Brazilian’s eighth Premier League goal of the season, all of them coming at home.

Ten minutes later, he had another. Cash recycled a corner out wide to McGinn, who feinted to cross with his left foot before switching to his right and delivering the ball onto the head of Luiz, who planted it home from six yards out.

Forest were reeling but on the stroke of half-time pulled one back when Niakhate chested home from two yards out, after Awoniyi had headed a corner back across goal.

Within two minutes of the restart and with Torres removed from the action, the visitors were right back in it. Divock Origi, one of three half-time changes for the visitors, played in Gibbs-White who dinked a finish over Martinez.

The sense of near disbelief around Villa Park nearly increased further when Elanga went through and pulled wastefully wide, perhaps not realising the time he had.

Villa looked to rally and almost came close to restoring a two-goal cushion and easing nerves when Moreno pulled the ball back and Tielemans fired off the post.

On the hour mark they did get another. Andrew Omobamidele, another half-time sub, was rushed into a pass by Watkins and could only find Tielemans. The latter immediately looked to play in Watkins and though Sels was out to make the save, the ball broke for Bailey to tap into the empty net.

The hosts were still nowhere near so dominant as in the first half and were fortunate to escape when Ryan Yates was left unmarked at a free-kick, the substitute volleying an excellent chance wide.

That was as close as Forest got again with Sels denying Morgan Rogers a first Villa goal in stoppage time.

Key Moments

4 GOAL Villa make the perfect start. John McGinn plays in Leon Bailey, who jinks inside Murillo before crossing for Ollie Watkins to tap home from three yards out.

29 GOAL Villa double their lead. Bailey plays the ball in to Matty Cash and he pulls it back for Jacob Ramsey, who does likewise for Douglas Luiz to sweep a finish into the bottom corner.

39 GOAL Another for Villa and another for Luiz. He heads home McGinn’s cross from six yards out.

45+5 GOAL Forest have one back. Taiwo Awoniyi heads a corner back across goal and Moussa Niakhate chests home from close range.

47 GOAL Forest are right back in the game. Divock Origi, one of three half-time changes, plays in Morgan Gibbs-White who dinks a finish over Emi Martinez.

60 GOAL Villa restore their two-goal cushion, Bailey tapping into an empty net after Matz Sels denies Watkins.


Villa (4-4-2): Martinez, Cash, Lenglet, Torres (Chambers HT), Moreno, Bailey (Diaby 90+2), McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey, Tielemans (Zaniolo 81), Watkins (Rogers 90+2) Subs not used: Digne, Kesler-Hayden, Iroegbunam, Gauci (gk), Olsen (gk).

Forest (4-2-3-1): Sels, Williams, Felipe (Omobamidele HT), Murillo (Toffolo HT), Niakhate, Dominguez (Yates 72), Danilo, Elanga, Gibbs-White (Reyna 81), Hudson-Odoi, Awoniyi (Origi HT) Subs not used: Kouyate, Reyna, Montiel, Ribeiro, Turner (gk).