STEVEN GERRARD SECURE HIS FIRST WIN FOR ASTON VILLA AFTER A CLEAN SHEET DEFEAT TO BRIGHTON.

It is a new chapter for Steven Gerrard in his gilded career, but winning at Villa Park remains a reassuringly familiar experience.

There was much for the 41 year old to consider before Watkins sparked scenes of wild celebration, with Villa appearing disjointed at times, but a first clean sheet since September 25 and halting a run of five successive defeats gives him plenty to build on.

“This was a big week and a big game, so there was a mixture of excitement and relief at the end,” said Gerrard.

“These are the buzzes and the highs that you miss as a player, I love seeing players compete and enjoying themselves.

“You try to control your emotions, but you’re kicking every ball. I want to be visible and guide the players, but inside of me is still that will to win, drive and that energy. I hate losing and you should see me in six-a-side staff games!

“We’ll debrief from this game and with time we will become stronger, we will grow and go better.”

Any victory over Brighton these days must be hard-earned, and this was Graham Potter’s first defeat on the road this season, with his team punished for not making more of their possession.

Brighton did not deserve to lose, but nothing was going to damage Gerrard’s first experience of the technical area in English football.

The reception at the start was noisy yet not raucous, with some disappointment still lingering in the air over the dismissal of Dean Smith who was “one of their own”.

Smith’s departure is still being viewed as a premature decision in some quarters, so there was perhaps even more pressure on Gerrard to hit the ground running.

By the end, they were chanting his name as he celebrated at the final whistle near the halfway line.

Early on he stood with his hands in his pockets, or arms folded, occasionally barking out an instruction or encouragement.  After just five minutes, he hurled his chewing gum down the touchline, perhaps sensing this was going to be a difficult afternoon.

Villa did create the first chance, with Matty Cash’s header pushed away by Jason Steele at the far post after 12 minutes. Steele, the Brighton goalkeeper, was making his first appearance at any level in over three years and Potter described him later as “excellent.”

Brighton were far more comfortable on the ball, gradually easing themselves into the game and dominating possession after Villa’s predictably strong start.

Potter’s approach demands players to be fearless and intent on passing their way out of tight areas, and Villa were having to put in a lot of work.

Gerrard will have learned quickly that he has inherited an excellent goalkeeper in Emiliano Martinez, the Argentina international.

Martinez produced a brilliant save to deny Leandro Trossard, and then an even better stop in first-half stoppage time, rushing off his line to block an effort from Tariq Lamptey. 

After 59 minutes the first request came from the Holte End for Gerrard to “give us a wave”, with Brighton in the ascendancy.

Frustration was building, and Villa were convinced they should have been awarded a penalty when Cash collapsed after a challenge from Brighton substitute Solly March.

Gerrard made changes in a bid to establish some momentum, introducing £25 million signing Leon Bailey and Ashley Young. One of the players replaced, record buy Emiliano Buendia, was unhappy with the decision and punched his seat in the dug-out.

With the game seemingly drifting towards a draw, the pivotal moment came five minutes from time. It owed much to Young, now 36, who sparked the home team into life with his industry after coming off the bench.

Taking the ball on the left from Young’s pass just inside the Brighton half, Watkins advanced towards goal to bend a shot past Steele into the corner.

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