Pope’s heroics dent Aston Villa’s European ambitions in 3-2 defeat at Turf Moor against Burnley.
Two late quick-fire goals from Dwight McNeil and Chris Wood proved to be the difference as Villa were left rueing first half missed chances as the hosts claim victory in five goal thriller.
The reverse fixture in December ended in goalless stalemate played out with Villa doing all but score past Nick Pope in the Burnley goal. It took the visitors less than three minutes to register their first chance at Turf Moor, an unmarked Ezri Konsa headed over from a Ross Barkley corner.
Robbie Brady then had the host’s first effort. However, the chance was wasted as his wild half volley cleared the bar after a flick on from Chris Wood bounced to the winger inside the box.
Watkins ended a nine game goal drought when Villa overcame Newcastle United at Villa Park last time out, and it only took 14 minutes for him to get on the score sheet in Lancashire. The striker tapped in at the near post following a low driven cross from Matt Targett who was making his 50 appearance for the club.
Villa continued their pleasing on the eye attacking style with Jack Grealish orchestrating the play. The skipper worked his way to the by-line before pulling the ball back to Bertrand Traore who fired straight at Pope with the flag being raised for an offside in the build-up.
Smith’s side were a constant threat to the Burnley defence and had two quick chances to double their lead. First Pope was called into action to deny Grealish’s well hit volley, before the playmaker turned provider for Traore who couldn’t keep his left footed shot on target.
The Clarets were hanging on and were fortunate not to be two goals behind at the interval. A sublime ball over the top from John McGinn set Watkins clear on goal but Pope was alert to deny the striker before Barkley saw his shot bounce off the top of the bar from the rebound.
The danger was far from over and from the resulting corner Barkley and Grealish linked up with the number 10 pulling a ball back to Traore who first fired a chance into the body of Ben Mee before Tyrone Mings saw his shot well saved by his international teammate in goal.
Targett was next to test the keeper with a low driven shot which was once again matched with a fine save. After constant bombardment to the Clarets goal for the final five minutes of the half, Paul Tierney blew for half time with Villa unable to add a second.
Villa began the second half the way they ended the first, by testing Pope. McGinn forced the Claret’s number one into a save to his left with a fizzing volley from the edge of the box.
For all their attacking dominance, Villa were punished by Burnley who equalised from their first corner of the game. An in swinging Ashley Westwood delivery was powerfully headed past Emiliano Martinez by Ben Mee inside the six yard box, seven minutes after the restart.
The goal knocked Villa’s attacking momentum and it took them till the hour mark to next test Pope. A fantastic solo run from Grealish saw the England international beat four opponents, however he was unable to beat the Burnley keeper who saved with his legs.
Burnley almost took the league when Erik Pieter’s pulled back cross fell to Wood on the penalty spot. The striker struck sweetly with the inside of his foot but was denied by the flying Martinez who saved well to keep the scores level.
The visitors restored their lead with twenty minutes to play when Grealish converted a Douglas Luiz squared cross. Tidy play in the build-up saw Luiz pick out his captain in the middle who tapped home his sixth league goal of the season.
The lead didn’t last long and within the space of three minutes Villa went from being ahead to being behind. Dwight McNeil levelled the scores in rather fortunate circumstances when his attempted cross zipped across the grass and into the far corner.
The game was turned on its head with thirteen minutes left to play when the Clarets took the lead in a game they could have been out of sight of at the break. McNeil turned provider with an accurate cross into the box which was well won and headed home by Wood to put the hosts in front.
Dyche’s side managed to see out the closing 10 minutes with Villa unable to create any opportunities to salvage a point. It’s the first time this season Aston Villa have lost after scoring first, and is a game Smith will be left questioning how his side have left Lancashire pointless.