Aston Villa moved within six points of the top four with an impressive victory over Leeds United on a difficult pitch at Elland Road.
Anwar El Ghazi scored the only goal, brilliantly controlling Ollie Watkins’ cross and firing past Islan Meslier after just five minutes.
Dean Smith’s side, still shorn of injured captain Jack Grealish, looked comfortable against Leeds who, despite winning their last two home games against Crystal Palace and Southampton, lacked penetration throughout.
Despite the defeat, Marcelo Bielsa’s United are still secure in 10th position with 35 points from their 26 games, just four points behind a rejuvenated Villa, who have games against Sheffield United, Wolves and Newcastle coming up as they look to strengthen their bid for European qualification.
No Grealish, no problem
Smith has refuted accusations Aston Villa are a one-man team but there is no doubting they are a more dangerous outfit when Grealish is available.
Before this match, their win percentage in the last three seasons dropped from 42% with Grealish to 17% without and his absence played a role in their laboured defeat by Leicester City last weekend.
And Smith’s insistence that his team have other options was proved when their attacking players combined skilfully to secure this win.
El Ghazi had an impressive goal streak pre-Christmas and he rediscovered his scoring touch in fine fashion, ghosting in behind the Leeds defence to bury Watkins’ strongly hit pass.
He showed further attacking intent shortly after, twice stinging Meslier’s palms with shots from distance.
This victory though owed as much to their miserly defence – only Manchester City and Chelsea have conceded fewer goals in the Premier League – and this was their 13th clean sheet of the campaign.
Credit must go to Smith as well for making changes in midfield, he brought in Marvelous Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey to form an impenetrable barrier in front of the back four.
Now, with two games in hand on the sides above, Villa will be plotting a return to Europe for the first time since 2010.
Leeds quietened on difficult pitch
Bielsa’s team have caught the eye in the Premier League for their slick interplay and persistent goal threat.
Both qualities were in evidence against Southampton last Tuesday in a commanding 3-0 victory.
However, on a pitch that looked increasingly threadbare, their dominance of possession did not bring many chances against Villa’s stubborn backline.
Indeed, Leeds completed more than twice as many passes as their visitors but rarely threatened, particularly in a second half that featured no shots on target.
In-form Raphinha was well shackled by Ahmed El Mohamady and top scorer Patrick Bamford, who hit a stunning hat-trick in the reverse fixture, was hardly involved, bar a first minute shot that failed to trouble Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez.
Tyler Roberts had a good sight of goal midway through the first half but hit his effort straight at Martinez.
United’s performance was summed up by Raphinha heading the ball into the ground and over the bar when well placed in the final moments.
‘Game plan worked’ – what they said
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith told BBC Sport: “Not many people would have fancied us against Leeds and they make you work hard. We got an early goal and showed lots of character.
“We’ve got the chance [to finish in the top six] but there are some top teams in there. We’ll just take it game by game.”
Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa told BBC Sport: “We dominated 80% of the game and the goal they scored was opportunism. In the first half we created enough chances to score a goal but in the second half we couldn’t finalise the attacks.”
Villa end Elland Road hoodoo – the stats
- Aston Villa picked up their first away win against Leeds since December 2000, ending a run of six without victory at Elland Road (D4 L2)
- Leeds have lost six home league games this season, the second highest number of home defeats suffered by Marcelo Bielsa in a single league campaign in his managerial career (8 with Athletic Bilbao in 2012-13)
- Aston Villa have won 23 points away from home in the Premier League so far this season (W7 D2 L4), their highest in a single campaign since 2009-10 (32 pts – W9 D5 L5)
- Leeds have conceded a league-high 27 Premier League goals before half-time this season, while the Whites have also shipped a league-high 19 goals from set-piece situations (including penalties).
- Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martínez has kept eight clean sheets away from home in the Premier League this season, more than any other keeper. Indeed, no Villa keeper has kept more on the road in a single campaign in the competition (Brad Friedel also eight in 2009-10)
Man of the match – Anwar El Ghazi (Aston Villa)
- 21StruijkSubstituted forAlioskiat 53′minutes
- 17Hélder CostaSubstituted forHarrisonat 64′minutes
- 11RobertsBooked at 61minsSubstituted forHernándezat 71′minutesBooked at 84mins
- 43KlichBooked at 63mins
- 27El MohamadyBooked at 80mins
- 18TargettBooked at 61mins
- 41RamseySubstituted forSansonat 79′minutes
- 21El GhaziSubstituted forTrézéguetat 88′minutes
- 6Douglas Luiz
Match ends, Leeds United 0, Aston Villa 1.
Second Half ends, Leeds United 0, Aston Villa 1.
Stuart Dallas (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Trézéguet (Aston Villa).
Corner, Leeds United. Conceded by Matt Targett.
Foul by Patrick Bamford (Leeds United).
Ezri Konsa Ngoyo (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Raphinha (Leeds United) header from the right side of the six yard box is close, but misses the top right corner. Assisted by Jack Harrison with a cross.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Trézéguet replaces Anwar El Ghazi.
Corner, Leeds United. Conceded by Ezri Konsa Ngoyo.
Attempt blocked. Patrick Bamford (Leeds United) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Luke Ayling with a cross.
Pablo Hernández (Leeds United) is shown the yellow card.
Diego Llorente (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Anwar El Ghazi (Aston Villa).
Foul by Raphinha (Leeds United).
Marvelous Nakamba (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Ahmed El Mohamady (Aston Villa) is shown the yellow card.
Hand ball by Stuart Dallas (Leeds United).
Substitution, Aston Villa. Morgan Sanson replaces Jacob Ramsey.
Raphinha (Leeds United) wins a free kick on the right wing.