Aston Villa overcame Leeds United 2-1 in an entertaining encounter at Villa Park.
Leon Bailey’s third-minute curler and Emi Buendia’s second-half header were enough for the hosts to steal all three points, with the visitors often the better and more energetic side.
Patrick Bamford returned to action to score his 100th league goal to set up a nervy ending for Villa, but the hosts clung on for a win that takes them up to 11th in the table, with Leeds looking anxiously over their shoulders.
Unai Emery’s side confusingly decided to kick towards the Holte End in the first half, and it proved decisive when Villa counter-attacked at pace from a Leeds corner, with Ashley Young sending Ollie Watkins free.
Watkins moved inside, finding Boubacar Kamara in a supporting role. The Frenchman looked right, finding Bailey free as the Jamaican drifted infield off his flank, shifting the ball onto his stronger left foot to bend it beyond the flailing Illan Meslier.
Villa continued to control the early exchanges, as Leeds struggled to cope with their opponents’ quality in possession, but Jesse Marsch’s men grew into the game with the attacking midfield trident – Brendan Aaronson, flanked by Wilfried Gnonto and Jack Harrison – proving to be thorns in the side of a static and sloppy Villa defence.
Debutant Alex Moreno was called upon as Rodrigo broke free of the home backline to round the onrushing Emi Martinez and try and squeeze home from a tight angle. But the Spanish defender who joined from Real Betis this week slid in at the last to clear off the line three minutes before the break.
Martinez produced a fine save from point-blank range in first-half stoppage time to deny Harrison at the far post after a first-time Ayling cross, and Rodrigo thought he’d equalised for Leeds as he bundled in a rebounded Gnonto strike, but the linesman’s flag ruled it out.
Martinez was called on once more to deny a Gnonto curler on 53 minutes, and 12 minutes later, Buendia nodded over the desperate Meslier, who struggled to recover from an initial save from Bailey.
The hosts grew in confidence as their second appeared to knock the wind out of the away side’s sails, with Moreno and Danny Ings both going close.
Bamford’s 83rd-minute strike set up a grand-stand finish after more excellent work from Gnonto, who eased Young out of the way, before slaloming beyond Morgan Sanson on the line. The Italian had the awareness to cut it back for Bamford, who crashed in to halve the deficit.
Villa hung on as Leeds were buoyed once more, but they couldn’t muster another moment of magic that would’ve seen them take a deserved point back to Yorkshire.
The result puts Emery back in the Villa fans’ good books after their shock FA Cup upset at the hands of League Two Stevenage last week, while another loss piles the pressure on Marsch and his men, who perhaps deserved more than they got here. But that’s been the theme of their season.
Jesse Marsch will look back at this game and wonder quite how his side didn’t come out of it with at least a point.
They hassled and harried the home side, and for much of the affair, they were the team in the ascendancy.
Willy Gnonto was their standout performer, terrifying Young down the Leeds left, with the 19-year-old teenage sensation showcasing his electrifying pace and trickery against a direct opponent twice his age.
But the two goals that ultimately compounded Leeds to defeat were due to defensive errors.
The first, while a clinical counter-attack, could have been prevented by the recovering Pascal Struijk, who showed Bailey inside onto his stronger left, rather than showing him the line onto his swinger.
For the second, it was all about alertness. Buendia stooped in to nod over Meslier, as the Leeds defenders reacted slowly to the Frenchman’s initial stop.
They’re small margins, but they can prove so decisive in the Premier League, and can be the difference between staying up and getting relegated.
Outstandingly, Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey opened the scoring to start off what would be an excellent performance.
Playing off his more favoured right side, the winger tore into Struijk, jinking both inside and out as he used his pace and movement to cause the Leeds defence problems.
He shifted into a freer role up top in the closing stages, reaping more havoc as he looked to stretch the tiring visiting backline even further.
He may have had a slow start to his Villa career, but Leon Bailey is threatening to explode into life in the coming months.
Aston Villa have registered four wins in their first six Premier League games under Unai Emery (D1 L1), one victory more than they managed in their previous 17 in the competition beforehand (W3 D5 L9).