Aston Villa

Ollie Watkins reaffirms his Premier League credentials with superb performance

Max Cooper
Smiles all round for Watkins
Smiles all round for Watkins / Pool/Getty Images

When the ball looped up into the air and threatened to drop between the Aston Villa striker and the Newcastle United goalkeeper, you just knew there was only going to be one winner.

Ollie Watkins leapt highest, put his body on the line and threw himself at the ball. The relief on his face said it all. The 25-year-old had ended his nine-game drought without a goal, and had silenced the minute percentage of critics or doubters questioning his Premier League credentials.

In truth, those who have questioned his ability at this level must have been purely casting an eye over the statistics, rather than tuning in to catch Watkins in action over the course of an entire 90 minutes.

For when you actually sit down and concentrate on what the striker brings to a game outside of cold, hard facts and figures, you quickly realise that he was born to compete against defenders at the highest level.

His opening goal of the evening did highlight one of his greatest strengths - his instinct. Watkins can smell goals, and he remains alert to even the slightest morsel of hope that the ball may drop to his feet. And when it does, he will be waiting.

That moment arrived on 13 minutes, when he anticipated Fabian Schar may miss his interception, and sniffed out the chance before shot-stopper Karl Darlow had time to flatten him. It was a brave header, but Watkins won't tell you that it was courage - he'll tell you it was his instinct.

His second major talking point arrived soon after, when he demonstrated two of his other key traits: movement and clinical finishing. Watkins is a proper live-wire, buzzing around the opposition backline and slipping in between markers at every given opportunity.

He loves drifting into wide areas and loitering like a hawk, waiting to swoop down onto its prey. And he did exactly that, studying Jack Grealish's glide up the pitch, and anticipating his killer pass. Watkins sprung into action, racing onto the through ball and sliding a perfect shot home without a second thought.

Unfortunately, he'd jumped the gun this time, but it was clear that confidence was flowing through his veins.

Ultimately, it was his work rate and ability when not bearing down on goal which impressed onlookers the most - yet again. Watkins made it his night's mission to terrorise and harass each centre-back, popping up on the left, the right and down the middle without warning.

He anticipated every pass arriving in his path, sprinting on angles to receive long punts downfield from Emi Martinez, and bringing the ball out of the sky and under his spell with deadly precision. Then, back to goal, he would wait for support, hold off his marker and make another penetrative run in behind a ragged Newcastle defence.

The Villa star knows exactly when to come short, when to stretch the backline, or when to put his head down, charge forward and draw desperate tackles from tiring defenders.

A teammate's favourite
A teammate's favourite / Pool/Getty Images

Watkins knows how to make every centre-back close his eyes at night, and see the forward's face - or more accurately, see his back racing away into the distance.

And as for Watkins, he'll sleep as soundly as he always should, safe in the knowledge that scoring goals is only a fraction of his well-rounded and dynamic style of play. Appreciate him, Villans, just as much as his teammates do.