“These kind of players need just 20 centimetres,” sighed Andoni Iraola. The player he was referring to was of course Ollie Watkins.
With one run and glancing header in the final seconds of the 90th minute, the Aston Villa striker demonstrated that, in addition to his many other attributes, he has that elusive quality of making the vital contribution to a game which has largely passed him by.
Having been passed fit to play at Bournemouth, Watkins had made precious little impact in a game that the home side had deserved to win.
But a quick shuffle helped him to lose his marker and head Moussa Diaby’s cross into the far corner to maintain Unai Emery’s extraordinary momentum at Villa.
“He was facing his goal and sometimes you just have to accept that it was a very good goal,” said Iraola, who went on to praise his own team’s performance.
If he can make even a fraction of the impact that Emery has, then Bournemouth might just be on the cusp of an exciting new era themselves.
“Before the game, probably you think it’s a very good point against Villa but, after how the game went I think it’s not good enough for us,” he said.
“We are very happy with the performance. I think we really deserved the three points today. We had the clearest chances, their keeper was really, really good, he made a difference today.”
After initially struggling to adjust to the approach of the former Rayo Vallecano manager, the Cherries look a team transformed and have now won three and drawn one of their last five Premier League games, moving them well clear of danger.
Villa’s progress in Emery’s 13 months in charge has been nothing short of remarkable. In 2023, only Manchester City have won more than their 22 Premier League games, a run of form which had propelled the Birmingham club right into the midst of discussion about Champions League qualification.
“I think it is a very good point for us and we have to accept it, said Emery. “The resilience was on the pitch and in our mind. [Emiliano] Martínez was fantastic.”
There had been no clear opportunities before Bournemouth seized on an error to lead in the 10th minute. It came from Diego Carlos who carelessly gifted possession to Ryan Christie on the edge of the area and he in turn fed Antoine Semenyo to sweep past Martínez.
Emery was manically stalking the touchline asking for more of the players he has come to expect so much from. He got it a few minutes later as Leon Bailey stepped inside Milos Kerkez and Lewis Cook to fire an unstoppable low shot into the far corner.
Quickly afterwards Emery was pumping his fists in celebration once more but a long Var check – roundly jeered by both sets of supporters – eventually ruled out Diego Carlos’ goal after Lucas Digne was adjudged offside in the build-up.
A fascinating half remained compelling right through to the end of the eight minutes of stoppage time. Martínez celebrated like he was winning the World Cup all over again after denying Dominic Solanke from point-blank range with a wonderful save.
In symmetry with the first half, Bournemouth retook the lead early in the second. Solanke did this time score his seventh of the season, turning sharply in the area to convert into the bottom corner after a gut-busting run from left-back Kerkez.
The hosts had several chances to extend their lead but survived a scare when Jhon Duran’s shot deflected off Marcos Senesi and struck the post.
But in the last moments of regular time, Diaby spotted Watkins’ movement and supplied the perfect cross for Watkins to score his ninth goal of the season.
“It was a good header,” he said. “One of the best I’ve scored.”