BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) -A stunning strike by Ollie Watkins and a late goal by Tyrone Mings gave Aston Villa a 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at Villa Park in the Premier League on Saturday in Steven Gerrard's first match as their new manager.
Villa scored on the counter-attack in the 84th minute after substitute Ashley Young carried the ball out of defence and found Watkins, who cut in from the left before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Mings put the result beyond doubt when he scored Villa's second in the 89th minute to snap their run of five league defeats that ended in the club sacking Dean Smith and replacing him with Gerrard on Nov. 11.
"It was a big week and a big game, especially for the players off the back of losing five," Gerrard said.
"It was a mixture of excitement and relief and pride really because I couldn't be more proud of the players because in just a week some players were only around for a couple of days.
"Everything we've asked to do in the main, they've followed instructions and delivered a really good performance in the end."
The match looked headed for a goalless draw before the two late Villa strikes, with neither side able to carve out many chances.
Villa started well and nearly took the lead in the 12th minute when Matt Targett's cross found Matthew Cash at the back post, but the right back's low header was turned away by Jason Steele in the Brighton goal.
Brighton grew into the contest and came close on the half-hour mark, when Marc Cucurella crossed from the left and the ball came off Jacob Ramsey and fell to Leandro Trossard, whose close range shot was parried by goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Brighton dominated possession but carved out few clear chances, and Martinez did well to race off his line and smother a Tariq Lamptey strike in stoppage time at the end of the first half to keep the scores level.
"The performance up to their goal was good," Brighton boss Graham Potter said. "I think we were the better team, but you have to make that pay and we didn't. And then we were punished at the end."
Villa were denied again at the start of the second half when John McGinn floated the ball in from a freekick and found Tyrone Mings, whose header back across goal was kept out by the diving Steele.
The match looked destined for a stalemate before Watkins struck to put Villa on course for a much-needed victory that moved them up to 15th in the table on 13 points, four above the relegation zone. Brighton slipped one spot to eighth place.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson)