Soccer-Villa strengthen grip on fourth with 3-1 win over Bournemouth

Soccer Football - Premier League - Aston Villa v AFC Bournemouth - Villa Park, Birmingham, Britain - April 21, 2024 Aston Villa's Morgan Rogers scores their first goal REUTERS/Molly Darlington

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) -Aston Villa stormed back from a goal down to beat Bournemouth 3-1 on Sunday, with strikes from Morgan Rogers, Moussa Diaby and Leon Bailey helping the Birmingham side to strengthen their grip on fourth place in the Premier League.

With the top four from the English top flight all qualifying directly for next year's Champions League group stage, the win means Villa have 66 points after 34 games, six more than Tottenham Hotspur, who have two games in hand.

With Villa inviting Bournemouth to press and insisting on playing out from the back, there were a few scary moments in the opening exchanges, with Justin Kluivert forcing a fine save from Emi Martinez in the 16th minute.

The visitors then took the lead when Villa defender Matty Cash chopped down Milos Kerkez and the referee immediately pointed to the spot, and Dominic Solanke slammed the penalty past Martinez for his 18th league goal of the season.

Villa equalised just before the break with a superb breakaway goal, Rogers picking up a superb pass from Bailey and running into the box before cutting inside and lashing the ball high into the net.

Shaking off the fatigue after qualifying for the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League with a penalty shootout win over Lille on Thursday, Villa came out blazing in the second half, with striker Ollie Watkins, who has scored 19 goals so far this term, turning playmaker.

First he teed up Diaby with a superbly-weighted pass to put the home side into the lead in the 57th minute, and 21 minutes later Bailey was able to wrap up the three points after Watkins found him at the far post for a simple close-range finish.

"It’s very happy today because it was such a strong performance. We need to play well to get three points at home in front of our fans. The race for Champions League, it is a good win and chance to get more points," goal-scorer Bailey told the BBC before praising Watkins.

"He helped the team a lot with a lot of goals, a lot of assists, a good game today and I am happy for him even if he does not score," Bailey said.

Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraloa lamented his side's inability to keep up with Villa in the second half.

"You have to take your chances against this type of opposition ... second half, things became more difficult. We weren’t as solid and they pushed us a lot running back so it was more difficult to attack," he told the BBC.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Clare Fallon and Toby Davis)

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