Ollie Watkins hits a hat-trick as Aston Villa thrash Hibernian
Ollie Watkins grabbed a hat-trick as Aston Villa effectively booked their place in the Europa Conference League with a 5-0 away win over Hibernian.
It was the Midlands club’s first European tie in 13 years and the first leg of their qualifying play-off tie was done and dusted by the interval after three headers, two by England international Watkins and one from Jamaica’s Leon Bailey.
The second half promised more pain for the stunned Premiership outfit and Watkins delivered another blow three minutes after the restart before Douglas Luiz added a fifth from the spot in the 74th minute of a one-sided contest.
It was Lee Johnson’s 500th competitive game in management and the Hibs boss will know the emphatic scoreline could have been worse.
The chasm in quality between the top-flight in Scotland and England was laid bare and it did not make for good viewing for those north of the border.
Heavy favourites or not, Unai Emery was taking the game seriously, making one change to his side which beat Everton 4-0 in the Premier League at the weekend with Matty Cash making way for Diego Carlos.
Former Hibs favourite John McGinn’s returned to Leith as Villa captain and he heard some early boos from the home fans, but they soon had more to worry about.
Johnson had the pace of Martin Boyle, Elie Youan and Dylan Vente in attack but they got little encouragement early on.
David Marshall saved a Lucas Digne header and a deflected strike from Moussa Diaby, but Hibs succumbed in the 17th minute when Digne’s cross from the left was glanced in by Watkins to the cheers of around 1,000 away fans.
Watkins should have doubled that lead three minutes later but – unmarked – he headed a McGinn cross over the bar.
Hibs came back and there was a penalty claim in the 26th minute when Boyle went to ground in the box as he tangled with Villa’s Douglas Luiz but Spanish referee Ricardo de Burgos was unimpressed.
Villa always looked dangerous when driving forward and in the 32nd minute, when Douglas Luiz swung in a corner from the left, Diego Carlos flicked on and Watkins stole in at the back post to head into the roof of the net.
Reality had set in for the home side.
McGinn played his part in Villa’s third, sending the tireless Digne down the left and when his delightful cross floated over Marshall, Bailey nodded in from almost on the line in the 42nd minute.
There was time before the break for Watkins to narrowly miss the target with an angled-drive.
Emery replaced World Cup-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with Robin Olsen for the start of the second half and the Sweden international soon tipped a shot from Youan over the bar, but Villa survived the corner before extending their lead.
Watkins confidently slid the ball into the net from another Digne delivery after getting away from the Hibs defence. His effort was initially ruled offside only for the VAR to confirm the goal was legal.
Hibs needed to prevent further embarrassment but after defender Lewis Stevenson tripped tricky substitute Bertrand Traore in the box, Douglas Luiz knocked in the penalty.
Villa cruised the rest of the game and the demoralised home side welcomed the final whistle which to all intents and purpose signalled the end of their European hopes this season.
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