Express & Star

Ollie Watkins vows to return even better after missing Aston Villa milestone

Villa striker Ollie Watkins missed out on a 20th Premier League goal of the season but declared: “There’s always next year.”

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Watkins, who will learn on Tuesday whether he has been included in the provisional England squad for Euro 2024, is convinced he will return even better next term after what he admits has been a breakthrough campaign.

The 28-year-old enjoyed his best goalscoring season for Villa, netting 27 times in all competitions. That included 19 in the league as he fell one short of becoming the first Villa player since Peter Withe in 1981 to hit 20 in a top flight season.

Watkins failed to score in any of his last five league appearances, but is determined to focus on the positives and the future.

He said: “It had been an aim but there is always next season. I am not surprised by how well I have done (this season) because of all the hard work I have put in.

“Has it been a breakthrough? Yeah. But next season will be better, I am sure of that.”

Watkins, who won the Premier League’s playmaker of the season award after also setting up 13 goals, acknowledged both he and Villa must be ready to improve again after the club’s best league season in years.

The fourth-place finish was Villa’s highest since 1996 and saw them clinch qualification for the Champions League but Watkins, like boss Unai Emery, is determined it won’t be a one-off.

Emery will sit down with the club’s owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens this week to thrash out plans for the summer. Watkins said: “This (fourth place) is our aim now. A lot of teams are competing.

“People say Chelsea have had a bad year but I don’t think they have. Next year they are going to be even stronger.

“Palace, you see what they have done with the new manager coming in. Tottenham are up there. We know next season is going to be difficult and we need to be ready.”

Villa were beaten 5-0 at Palace on the final day of the campaign and Watkins added: “It was a poor game, individually and collectively but it doesn’t highlight our season.

“We have been great all year. Maybe we did not prepare for Sunday very well individually.

“You can’t just turn up and expect to play well on the day. But it has been an unbelievable season and I can’t wait for next year now.”