Top goalkeeper in the world on Monday, match-deciding howler on Sunday. Elite sport has a habit of bringing the best back to Earth and after Aston Villa’s shock defeat at Nottingham Forest, Emi Martinez knows that feeling only too well.
The Argentina star collected the Yashin Trophy at the Ballon d’Or ceremony last week after his brilliant displays helped his country win last year’s World Cup. Those weeks in Qatar will be among Martinez’s happiest memories yet he will want to forget his afternoon at the City Ground as quickly as possible.
With Villa trailing 1-0, Martinez flew to his left to reach Orel Mangala’s 25-yard effort early in the second half but failed to make a strong enough connection, causing the ball to spin back on to the bar and creep over the line.
With Forest already leading through Ola Aina’s fifth-minute strike, Martinez’s error left Villa with too much to do. It was only their third defeat in the league this season as Forest won for the first time since their victory at Chelsea on September 2.
Forest’s long run without a success had caused some unease among the hierarchy but this should bring back the smiles. As boss Steve Cooper leapt about in his technical area to gee up the crowd during stoppage time, he reflected the spirit his team showed here.
Nottingham Forest defeated Aston Villa 2-0 at the City Ground on Sunday afternoon
Forest had the help from Emiliano Martinez, who tapped a long-range shot from Orel Mangala into the back of his own net
Aina got the hosts off to a fast start scoring in the first five minutes of the match from long-range
The result puts the brakes on Villa’s march up the table as Forest centre-backs Moussa Niakhate and Murillo did superbly to shut out Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby. Yet had Villa been calmer in front of goal in the second half, they could have had at least a point – though Cooper disagreed.
Following last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Liverpool, Cooper made a change in goal, giving a first league start to summer signing Odysseas Vlachodimos and leaving former Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner on the bench.
Cooper arranged his team in a 4-1-4-1 formation and allowed Villa most of the ball, using their own pace on the flanks to cause problems on the break. And the plan worked a treat when Forest took the lead inside five minutes.
Anthony Elanga escaped on the left and found Harry Toffolo inside him, who played the ball square to Aina. It was a sweet strike that flew in from 22 yards, though Unai Emery would have been unhappy with Douglas Luiz’s failure to close down his opponent. Villa keeper Emi Martinez may also have had his view blocked by Luiz and Pau Torres.
Villa were lucky soon afterwards when Nicolas Dominguez and Taiwo Awoniyi – making his first start for more than a month after injury – hustled Boubacar Kamara into a mistake on the edge of his own box. Referee Jarred Gillett rescued Kamara by calling a foul as Awoniyi shaped to shoot, leaving Cooper furious.
Emery’s plan relies on full-backs Lucas Digne and Matt Cash providing width as John McGinn and Nicolo Zaniolo drift infield. But Toffolo and Aina were doing a fine job of keeping Digne and Cash quiet, while Villa’s high defensive line left them vulnerable as Forest looked to play forward early.
Zaniolo’s mishit cross nearly sneaked in at the near post and Elanga did well to block Digne’s volley at the far post. Then came Villa’s best chance when Murillo – who was otherwise outstanding before the break – was robbed by Ollie Watkins. Watkins fed Moussa Diaby and the Frenchman played in Zaniolo but his shot was too close to Vlachodimos.
Villa’s frustration was growing and there was a heated exchange between Luiz and Torres shortly before the interval – though there was still time for another moment of controversy.
It was a fantastic strike from Mangala who struck a thumping shot from around 25-yards out
Martinez, who won the Yashin Trophy at the 2023 Ballon d'Or on Monday got one hand to the ball but defelected onto the cross bar and into the net
It was a tough day at the office for Aston Villa who's six match unbeaten run came to an end
Nottingham Forest (4-1-4-1): Vlachodimos 6.5; Aina 8 (Williams 86), Niakhate 7.5, Murillo 8, Toffolo 7.5 (Aurier 71, 6); Mangala 7; Gibbs-White 7, Sangare 7, Dominguez 8 (Yates 86), Elanga 7; *AWONIYI 8.5* (Danilo 82).
Subs not used: Turner, Tavares, Kouyate, A Santos, Boly.
Scorers: Aina 5, Mangala 47
Manager: Steve Cooper 8
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Martinez 4; Cash 5 (Tielemans 59, 6) Konsa 5.5, Torres 6, Digne 6.5; McGinn 7.5, Kamara 5.5 (D Carlos 78, 6), D Luiz 6 (Dendoncker 86), Zaniolo 5 (Bailey 46, 6); Watkins 5.5, Diaby 6.5.
Subs not used: Olsen, Traore, Moreno, Chambers, Lenglet.
Manager: Unai Emery 6
Referee: Jarred Gillett 6
Awoniyi was bundled over by Kamara inside the box only for the play to be brought back for an offside against Dominguez. A VAR check ruled the call was right but Cooper was clearly ticking as he headed down the tunnel.
If the first half had started badly for Villa, then the second was even worse. Toffolo’s cross spun off Cash and the bounce deceived Ezri Konsa, allowing Awoniyi to work the ball back to Toffolo, who found Mangala.
Though Martinez tried to palm away the midfielder’s 25-yard effort, he could not stop it spinning back off the bar and over the line. It was a clear mistake and with the half only 69 seconds old, Villa were two down.
It could have been three moments later when more good work by Awoniyi presented a chance to Dominguez, who could not beat his fellow Argentine from close range.
Villa were still struggling to carve out clear chances and when they did, Watkins headed McGinn’s glorious chip wide from eight yards.
Like Watkins, Diaby had been kept quiet by Murillo and Moussa Niakhate until his clever footwork set up Leon Bailey, whose effort from the angle was well over.
Bailey had replaced Zaniolo at half-time and just before the hour Emery made his more changes, sending on Youri Tielemans for Cash and moving Kamara to right-back. Moments later Bailey and Diaby combined again and though Diaby’s effort was on target, it was held comfortably.
By now Villa were starting to find gaps in the Forest rearguard and McGinn produced another cross that was headed over by Bailey.
As Forest tired and dropped deeper, Villa looked more dangerous and the home side were lucky that Tielemans’ radar was awry from an unmarked central position 20 yards out.
And when Vlachodimos failed to deal with McGinn’s corner, only Ibrahim Sangare’s desperate hack clear stopped Tielemans halving the deficit from inside the six-yard box.
The Villans had more possession and attempts than Forest, and despite their best efforts in the second half, couldn't pull a goal back
Odysseas Vlachodimos replaced Matt Turner in net for Forest and delivered an excellent performance on debut
Unai Emery's side had the chance to break into the top four at the start of the day, but will now stay fifth in the Premier League standings
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