Lucas Digne pounces to break Luton hearts and keep Aston Villa on track for Champions League

Lucas Digne

A last-gasp goal from Aston Villa substitute Lucas Digne denied Luton Town what would have been a huge point in their fight for Premier League survival and gave Unai Emery’s men a big Champions League boost.

Rob Edwards’ brave team looked to have an impossible task on their hands at half-time, trailing to two Ollie Watkins goals. The striker had also hit the post and Villa should have been out of sight.

But, despite being without a host of injured players and facing a mountain to climb, Luton never gave up in front of their biggest crowd in over 30 years.

Goals from Tahith Chong and Carlton Morris looked to have secured a dramatic point that could have been so valuable at the end of the season, particularly with Everton and Nottingham Forest both losing.

But Digne broke Luton’s hearts right at the death with a goal from the cross of another late substitute, Moussa Diaby, that preserved fourth-placed Villa’s five-point cushion over Tottenham Hotspur.

Unai Emery celebrates Aston Villa's win over Tottenham
Unai Emery celebrates Lucas Digne's winning goal which sent Aston Villa five points clear of Tottenham - Getty Images/Michael Regan

A dejected Edwards said: “As you can imagine, we’re down. It’s hard to come out after a defeat, but I feel we don’t deserve to based on the performance. It’s really difficult to take right now. It’s probably the angriest I’ve been and it hurts.

“I’ll struggle to sleep tonight, but I will sleep better knowing we have given everything. We need to pick ourselves up.”

Watkins could have had a hat-trick in the first half, as he netted his 15th and 16th League goals of the season and struck the post. He trails the League’s top scorer Erling Haaland by a single goal and the Norwegian is the only other top-flight player with more than 30 goal contributions across all competitions this season.

Ollie Watkins scoring Aston Villa's first goal at Luton with a glancing header
Ollie Watkins opened the scoring with a glancing header - Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Asked if Watkins is currently one of the best strikers in Europe, Emery said: “Yes, of course. The Premier League is the toughest in the world and he’s been amazing. But as a person, he’s humble and he doesn’t let it change him. Fantastic, brilliant, he’s an example for other players.”

Watkins is making himself impossible for England manager Gareth Southgate not to take to the European Championships and Emery added: “He deserves to be there in the national team. He deserves to be there.”

Jacob Ramsey threatened twice during the opening 15 minutes, but after that Watkins took over. Thomas Kaminski saved well midway through the first half to keep out the former Brentford man, who had been given a sight of goal by Leon Bailey. But the Luton goalkeeper was beaten from the resulting corner, as Watkins brilliantly headed in Bailey’s set piece.

Villa co-owner Nassef Sawiris was watching from the Kenilworth Road directors’ box and celebrated wildly when Watkins’ header hit the back of the net.

Having hit a post, Watkins doubled Villa’s lead after he beat the Luton offside trap and the linesman, who flagged for offside when the striker had clearly been onside.

Ollie Watkins scoring Aston Villa's second goal in their win at Luton
Watkins' second goal came from a trademark run off the shoulder of the Luton defence - Getty Images/David Rogers

Reece Burke was booked for pulling the shirt of Morgan Rogers, Douglas Luiz took a quick free-kick and Watkins finished smartly past Kaminski. The linesman initially ruled the goal out with his flag for offside, but VAR showed he had clearly been on and the goal was given.

Luton came out for the second half a different team, pinning Villa back and winning set piece after set piece that the visitors could barely cope with.

The home side finally made one of their corners count in the 66th minute. Alfie Doughty’s corner wasn’t dealt with by the Villa defence and after Matt Cash had produced a brilliant headed block on the goalline to stop Burke, Chong scored from close range.

Luton Town's Tahith Chong scoring their first goal against Aston Villa
Luton Town's Tahith Chong pulled one back after a scramble from a corner - Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Seven minutes later, Luton levelled from yet another set-piece, this time conceded by Ezri Konsa. Doughty produced another superb delivery and Morris guided his shot past Emi Martinez to send the home fans wild.

Emery signalled for calm from the visiting dug-out, but he made a quadruple change with just over 10 minutes remaining - sending on Digne, Diaby, Nicolo Zaniolo and Tim Iroegbunam.

It was two of the substitutes who combined to win the game for Villa and send Emery leaping down the touchline in celebration. Diaby crossed from the right and Digne timed his run perfectly at the back post to head in from close range.

Luton Town 2 Aston Villa 3: As it happened

08:02 PM GMT

Watkins on his form

I feel like my game understanding has gotten a lot better, my movement. Also conserving energy. I was pressing because I can do that, but sometimes when I do get the chance to go through on goal I can be a bit tired from chasing defenders. Also the mentality, knowing that if I miss a chance I’m going to bury the next one, which I didn’t have before.

Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins celebrates after the match
Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins celebrates after the match

07:49 PM GMT

Ollie Watkins on Villa’s rough second half

We know with their previous results they score a lot of late goals and the fans get behind them. It’s a difficult place to go.

We had the same instance with Forest last week. We were a little bit to comfortable and too relaxed which is the worst thing you can do at two goals up.

I think we needed to stay on the ball a lot more, and use the goalkeeper.

07:35 PM GMT

FT: Luton 2 Villa 3

Unai Emery punches the air at the end, three points pulled from the fire just when it looked like two were being dropped. Villa were completely superior for 45 minutes when Watkins terrorised Luton’s defence, before evaporating for much of the second half and conceding two set-piece goals. A moment of quality between Diaby and Digne saved the day in the 90th minute. The win keeps Villa five points clear of Spurs, who travel to Villa Park next Sunday (albeit Spurs have a game in hand). That could be a pivotal game.

Unai Emery, Manager of Aston Villa, celebrates after the team's victory in the Premier League match between Luton Town and Aston Villa
Unai Emery, Manager of Aston Villa, celebrates after the team's victory in the Premier League match between Luton Town and Aston Villa

07:31 PM GMT

95 minutes: Luton 2 Villa 3

Villa look to have just done enough, but there is time for one more Luton set-piece after Cash and Konsa slice clearances in their own box. Doughty across to take from the right with his left foot and Mengi was up early! But his header flew over the bar.

07:28 PM GMT

90 minutes: Luton 2 Villa 3

Rob Edwards looked furious with his team’s defending, even though he will be delighted with their second-half performance. Villa fans are the supporters you can hear signing now. Potentially a big moment in the season with Ajax and Spurs to come this week.

07:26 PM GMT

GOOAAAALL! Villa may well have got themselves out of jail

Two of Emery’s subs combine, with Diaby clipping a cross to the back post with his left foot and Digne stole in ahead of Ogbene to squeeze a header under Kaminski.

Villa have FIVE added minutes to survive.

Aston Villa's Lucas Digne celebrates scoring their third goal
Aston Villa's Lucas Digne celebrates scoring their third goal

07:21 PM GMT

84 minutes: Luton 2 Villa 2

Chong has picked up a knock for Luton, and Ruddock Mpanzu has replaced him, the player who has been with Luton from non-League all the way up the pyramid. Luton have yet another free-kick which Doughty is going to whip in.

It was almost a carbon copy of the goal! Morris’ side-footed the ball right across the six-yard box but the flag was up for offside anyway.

07:17 PM GMT

80 minutes: Luton 2 Villa 2

Barkley with quick feet in midfield again to win a free-kick, which looked to be heading towards Morris again before it was turned behind for a corner. This time it is straight down Martinez’s throat. Diaby’s speed threatens on the break but his low cross is cut out.

07:15 PM GMT

78 minutes: Luton 2 Villa 2

Emery is about to make a raft of attacking subs, although perhaps he should not have waited until the game was level. Diaby, Digne, Zaniolo and Iroegbunam are on for Bailey, Moreno, Tielemans and Rogers. I thought Rogers did very well considering his lack of minutes, feels a bit harsh.

07:12 PM GMT

74 minutes: Luton 2 Villa 2

There is no visible sign of a Villa response. Momentum has shifted and Luton are pouring forward in numbers. This time Barkley clipped a cross to the back post, and it was a mismatch of Morris vs Cash in the air, but he did not connect with the header,

07:09 PM GMT

GOOOOAAALLL! Luton level through Morris

Luton have stacked up the set-pieces in this half and it has paid dividends. It is a superb delivery looped from left to right by Doughty, and there is Morris to direct the ball home with a well-controlled, side-foot volley. Great composure from the Luton striker. Villa in danger of throwing points away.

Luton Town's Carlton Morris scores their second goal
Luton Town's Carlton Morris scores their second goal

07:05 PM GMT

69 minutes: Luton 1 Villa 2

Unai Emery’s managerial career has been studded with games in which they sink back trying to defend a lead and end up being punished. Villa were so superior in the first half, but have been pushed back and muted since the restart. Luton have rebalanced and are flying.

07:03 PM GMT

GOOOOAALL! Chong has pulled one back for Luton

Finally, Luton make one of their set-pieces count. It was a mad scramble once the ball was headed back across goal, with Matty Cash heading off the line, but Chong finally forced the ball over the line. Cash and team-mates may have done well to avoid a handball and red card on the line. Game on.

Luton Town's Tahith Chong celebrates scoring their first goal
Luton Town's Tahith Chong celebrates scoring their first goal

07:02 PM GMT

66 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Good football from Luton, with Barkley spreading play out to Kabore. The ball was set back to Ogbene, and Lenglet had to slice the ball behind for a corner. Could he have let the ball run for Martinez?

07:00 PM GMT

62 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Another Luton corner claimed by Emi Martinez, although this one was far more straightforward. The home fans remain in good voice but an uptick in their performance has so far not yielded a goal.

Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez
Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez

06:56 PM GMT

59 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Villa have not really got started in this half, failing to keep the ball and inviting pressure. Luton pushing forward does mean there will be space for Watkins on the break though. You can’t help but wonder if Luton needed a goal from one of that flurry of set-pieces.

06:52 PM GMT

57 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Much, much better from Luton, and Villa are guilty of conceding set-pieces around their box. This time it was Cash on Chong near the left-hand corner of the box. At the back post, Morris loops a header on to the roof of the net.

06:50 PM GMT

54 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Rob Edwards is about to give Hashioka a Premier League debut from the bench. Luton have won another corner, which Doughty is going to whip in with his left peg. Excellent take from Martinez, under pressure and at an awkward angle. It’s good goalkeeping from Martinez, who then stays down nursing his back to kill a few more seconds.

06:47 PM GMT

51 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Luton turning up the pressure. McGinn is at full stretch to deal with Chong, and turns the ball behind for a corner. These set-pieces are stacking up at the start of the second half, but Villa are standing strong and dealing with the aerial challenges.

Chiedozie Ogbene of Luton Town is challenged by Leon Bailey of Aston Villa
Chiedozie Ogbene of Luton Town is challenged by Leon Bailey of Aston Villa

06:46 PM GMT

49 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Rogers has been very impressive since coming on for Villa, comfortable receiving the ball in pockets of space between the Luton midfield and defence. This time he feeds Watkins, but that striker’s shot was tame. Then Rogers is shown a yellow card for a foul on Kabore. Another Luton free-kick in a dangerous area.

06:44 PM GMT

47 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Better from Luton with Kabore winning a free-kick down the right, but no orange shirt could make contact with the delivery. Luton trying to be more positive at the start of this half.

06:43 PM GMT

We are back under way in the second half

Luton have scored plenty of late goals this season, and they need a few more.

06:38 PM GMT

Is Watkins’ season fully appreciated?

06:27 PM GMT

HT: Luton 0 Villa 2

A routine half from Villa, who have made light work of a trip to Kenilworth Road so far. Emery’s team have moved the ball smoothly, and Ollie Watkins has been electric. Aside from his two goals, he has given an under-strength Luton defence kittens with his movement and (possibly underrated) hold up play.

Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins celebrates scoring their second goal
Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins celebrates scoring their second goal

06:25 PM GMT

45+7 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Bailey pulled him with a knock on the edge of Villa’s defensive third, causing McGinn to dive in and give away a free-kick. A little better from Luton in stoppage time, Villa getting a little sloppy. Barkley is over it...22 yards out, left of centre but he cannot beat the wall.

06:22 PM GMT

45+4 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

McGinn feeds the ball into the feet of Watkins again, and Luton are scrambling back to defend. Luton are hampered by injuries but this has been far too easy for the visitors in this half.

Another booking for a Villa player, Leon Bailey the offender this time stopping the counter-attack.

06:18 PM GMT

45 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Douglas Luiz has been shown his seventh yellow card of the season, somewhat harshly for a nothing incident down the Villa right. The free-kick gives Luton the chance to deliver into the box, and Morris won a free header before Chong’s shot was charged down by Moreno.

There will be SEVEN minutes of added time to play.

06:17 PM GMT

44 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Rogers has looked positive and imposing since coming on for Villa, and he draws a superb save from Kaminski to keep out a shot that was bending towards the top corner. Villa looking slick.

06:15 PM GMT

43 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 2

Villa’s comfort from the first whistle is now reflected in the scoreline. A bit more pressure on this game after Spurs’ comeback win earlier today. Also looks a presentable chance to extend the lead over Man Utd, who play at the Etihad tomorrow. Villa host Spurs next week.

06:12 PM GMT

GOOOAAALL! Watkins has his second

That is why you stay serious and put the ball in the net, regardless of what the linesman is doing. It’s a lovely finish from Watkins, but Luton knocked off at the restart. Watkins now has 16 Premier League goals this season.

06:11 PM GMT

38 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 1

Villa have the ball in the net but the flag has gone up for offside against Watkins. Burke was shown a yellow card for pulling back Rogers, and Luiz took a quick one through to Watkins. Smart finish, and this is a very tight offside call.

VAR checking...I think the Luton player in the left-back position has played him onside.

06:08 PM GMT

35 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 1

Ollie Watkins skims the foot of the post! Villa ever so close to taking a two-goal lead. It was classic Watkins, a run down the side of the centre-halves before shifting and shooting across Kaminski. Watkins looks a class above those Luton defenders.

06:06 PM GMT

32 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 1

Wicked delivery from McGinn, and inswinger with his left foot, but Lenglet could not get his head around the glancing header. The Villa defender then ushers the ball behind for a goal kick at the other end. Luton have another injury headache, although Mengi is back on having gone off holding his foot.

06:01 PM GMT

30 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 1

Jacob Ramsey is not fully over the problem with his left foot, and has been substituted. Morgan Rogers has replaced him, a 21-year-old with just two substitute appearances in the Premier League.

05:59 PM GMT

26 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 1

Luton have not been able to pen Villa in so far, there has always been an out-ball, and it is usually Watkins. This has been a textbook away performance at a tricky ground from Emery’s team. Putting their foot on the ball, quieting the crowd as well as carrying a threat.

05:56 PM GMT

GOOOAAALLL! Watkins gives Villa the lead

Ollie Watkins has been threatening that since the first few minutes, but you would not have expected it to come from a corner. It’s a fairly basic piece of movement to the near post but it was untracked, and Watkins’ glancing header left Kaminski with no chance.

Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins scores their first goal
Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins scores their first goal

05:55 PM GMT

22 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

Kaminski called into action to claim Bailey’s driven cross from the right, but his handling was clean. And then the Luton goalkeeper produced a better stop to deny Watkins, standing tall as the Villa striker tried to find the roof of the net. Watkins looking really sharp so far.

05:52 PM GMT

20 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

One of the problems facing Luton at the moment is that Doughty, one of their most productive attackers this season, has had to move back and cover the left centre-back area. It is curtailing his bursts forward. Watkins with some excellent hold up play helps his team move up the pitch again.

05:50 PM GMT

17 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

Ramsey is fit to continue. Villa pass the ball across their own penalty area from right to left under Luton pressure, but once again they find a way out with a clipped ball to Watkins. Luton yet to fashion a dangerous attacking moment.

05:46 PM GMT

14 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

Emiliano Martinez claims a Townsend cross with ease, to cheers from the away fans. At the other end, the ball runs through into Ramsey’s path after good work by McGinn and Kaminski tips his curling shot around the post. Now Ramsey is down nursing some kind of knock and the physios are on.

05:43 PM GMT

11 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

Villa have settled well in possession, Luton struggling to apply that suffocating pressure that can be a theme of games at Kenilworth Road. Emery’s teams are finding exits and spare men quite comfortably so far. Jacob Ramsey has been penalised for a hand-off into the face of Ross Barkley.

05:39 PM GMT

7 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

This is hard work for Luton’s defence, who are struggling to cope with the peeling runs of Watkins, Ramsey and Bailey. Villa are turning them early and causing stress. Luton try to get going as an attacking force, but the flag goes up against them for offside.

05:37 PM GMT

5 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

Luton are missing some key defensive personnel and they are looking ragged in the first few minutes. Mengi did well to step across and deal with a burst forward from Ramsey.

Yet another injury problem here for them. Amari’i Bell has pulled up with what looks a hamstring injury. Ogbene, a much more attacking player, is going to replace him. It could mean Kabore inside and Ogbene as a wing-back.

Luton Town's Amari'i Bell receives medical attention after sustaining an injury
Luton Town's Amari'i Bell receives medical attention after sustaining an injury

05:34 PM GMT

2 minutes: Luton 0 Villa 0

Aston Villa backing themselves to pass out from deep areas on a tight pitch, and they released Watkins down the right. He found Bailey on the overlap, whose cross glanced off the chest of Jacob Ramsey. Lively start from the visitors.

Leon Bailey of Aston Villa crosses the ball during the Premier League match between Luton Town and Aston Villa at Kenilworth Road
Leon Bailey of Aston Villa crosses the ball during the Premier League match between Luton Town and Aston Villa at Kenilworth Road

05:33 PM GMT


Aston Villa get the game under way at Kenilworth Road.

04:52 PM GMT

Team news

Luton: Kaminski, Mengi, Burke, Bell, Kabore, Clark, Barkley, Doughty, Townsend, Chong, Morris. 
Subs: Hashioka, Shea, Ogbene, Berry, Woodrow, Mpanzu, Krul, Nelson, Piesold.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Lenglet, Alex Moreno, Bailey, McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Ramsey, Tielemans, Watkins.
Subs: Digne, Torres, Chambers, Diaby, Zaniolo, Olsen, Rogers, Kesler-Hayden, Iroegbunam.

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)

04:49 PM GMT

Match preview

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery says his respect for today’s Premier League opponents Luton grows every time he watches them.

Villa are bidding to consolidate their top-four position and a third straight top-flight win in the evening kick-off at Kenilworth Road could lift them further clear of fifth-placed Tottenham.

But Emery has warned his side face a tough challenge having done his homework on Rob Edwards’ Hatters.

The Villa head coach said: “It will be a very demanding match in 90 minutes. Even when they were losing 3-0, they scored two goals against Manchester City (in last week’s 6-2 FA Cup defeat).

“Even when they were losing 3-0 at home against Chelsea (in December), they scored two goals and had chances to draw the match.

“Analysing them, my respect for them is increasing. I’m impressed with how they are playing.”

Ross Barkley has been key to Luton’s survival battle this season and although the Hatters have lost their last four games in all competitions, the former Villa midfielder’s displays have been noted by Emery.

“He’s playing very well,” the Spaniard said. “They are in a very good moment - not only Barkley. They are feeling confident and playing feeling strong.

“Maybe they haven’t had good results because they didn’t win in their last matches, but they are playing very well.

“I appreciate a lot how they are playing. Very aggressive, man-to-man, playing in combinations and Barkley is in a very good moment.”

A 17th league win of the season for Villa will extend their five-point advantage over Tottenham, who have a game in hand, if the Londoners fail to beat Crystal Palace at home.

Emery added: “We are very excited in the Premier League with how we are progressively getting better and being committed to try and do our best.

“We are fourth in the table now and we know we have to be consistent in 38 matches. Each match we are going to face is worth three points.

“Luton is worth the same points that we were playing for against the top teams like Arsenal and Manchester City.”

Emery confirmed defenders Ezri Konsa and Pau Torres will both be included in his squad.

Konsa has missed the last four games due to a knee injury, while Torres was withdrawn at half-time in last week’s 4-2 home win against Nottingham Forest.

Jhon Duran will not feature as he closes in on his return from a hamstring injury and Diego Carlos, Tyrone Mings, Emi Buendia and Boubacar Kamara remain long-term absentees.