BIRMINGHAM, Sept 19 — Jamaican winger Leon Bailey won the Aston Villa faithful’s hearts yesterday with a 21-minute cameo that included his first goal since his big-money move from Bayer Leverkusen.
Bailey, a £25 million summer signing, was introduced as a substitute in the 61st minute and he sparked Villa into life with his electrifying pace.
After Matty Cash fired Villa ahead in the 66th minute, also registering his first Villa goal, Bailey’s corner flicked in off Everton’s Lucas Digne to make it 2-0.
He then raced through to smash a bobbling ball past Asmir Begovic with his left foot.
Bailey did not last much longer, however, limping off with a tight thigh he said was caused by his powerful strike.
But it did not spoil the day for the 24-year-old Jamaica international, who made his name with Genk in Belgium.
“It means so much to me, to accomplish what I did in the 21 minutes. My family was here and the fans chanting my name when I came on. It is such an amazing feeling. I feel I have welcomed myself here as a Villa player,” Bailey said.
“My son is here, he is a great part of my life and had motivated me. My girlfriend has been a backbone for me and my brother has been supportive. I felt comfortable and I felt I needed to do it for them and the fans.”
His goal was a stunner. Latching on to a long ball forward, he sprinted towards goal before smashing the ball into the net with a rising drive.
“In the moment I just said I am going to smash the ball. It was bouncing, I took the time to be relaxed, focused to make sure I hit it properly,” he said.
“The injury was from the shot, I hit it too hard and started feeling stiff in my quad. I don’t think it was anything too serious but didn’t want to risk it.”
It was also a joyful day for former Nottingham Forest right back Cash, who said he had dreamt the night before that he would score in front of the Holte End.
“I had a dream last night I was going to score. I need to dream more. I scored in front of the Holte End. Surreal moment. I’m really happy to be playing in front of these fans,” he said.
Everton manager Rafa Benitez, who was without strikers Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, as well as England keeper Jordan Pickford, was left to ponder the end of his side’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season.
“I think that we started the game quite well, we had a lot of situations on the counter in the first half and the final decision was not right,” the Spaniard said.
“We made mistakes too soon, too early, too close and it was difficult to react. Hopefully we can manage that in the future.”
On Everton’s injury problems, Benitez said the absentees would be missing for another one or two weeks. — Reuters