There are few better ways to whet supporters’ appetite than a debut goal and Bertrand Traoré got up and running in style as Aston Villa breezed beyond Bristol City to advance to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup.
Ollie Watkins struck two and a half minutes after arriving off the bench to complete the scoring but Traoré’s sumptuous first-time volley, moments after Anwar El Ghazi converted from close range, was the highlight of a thoroughly satisfying victory for Villa, who rested Jack Grealish with an eye on Monday’s league trip to Fulham.
Dean Smith made wholesale changes from the team that overcame Sheffield United on Monday. Tyrone Mings and John McGinn were among the substitutes but Grealish was absent altogether, though Traoré ably deputised for Villa’s catalyst. The Burkina Faso forward, who completed 70 minutes on his first outing since joining from Lyon, kept an inexperienced Bristol City backline on their toes to help set up a tie at home to Stoke next week.
Watkins arrived at Villa for a club-record £28m and Traoré for £17m, more than the combined cost of the Bristol City starting XI, and such class told here. When Jacob Ramsey dinked a cross towards Traoré, who arrived in the 18-yard box unmarked and at speed, he opened up his body and effortlessly side-footed the ball into the far corner.
Three minutes earlier, El Ghazi had opened the scoring after fine work by Keinan Davis, who reduced the Bristol City defender Tommy Rowe to all fours before cutting the ball back at the byline.
For Dean Holden, promoted to the role of Bristol City head coach last month, this was a rare occasion whereby he hoped Smith would come away empty-handed. It was Smith who handed Holden his first role in coaching – a player-coach role while he was in charge of Walsall – and Holden cites Smith as one of the biggest inspirations behind his nascent management career. Until now, it had been a seamless start too, with City winning their opening four matches, conceding just once.
But Villa were quick to pick holes in the hosts’ defence and Max O’Leary, the Bristol City goalkeeper who was one of eight changes, had to be alert to prevent the lively Keinan Davis from opening the scoring after cute buildup play by Traoré, who made a handful of starts across four years at Chelsea. But after 14 minutes Villa had established a two-goal advantage and by half-time they would have been further in front but for O’Leary tipping over a powerful effort by Davis, a handful in attack.
Traoré’s goal gave Villa breathing space and from that moment they were rarely threatened. The home striker Famara Diedhiou headed over a Niclas Eliasson cross on the half-hour but Villa could easily have run away with things. El Ghazi might have finished with a hat-trick and Watkins, who enjoyed a fruitful loan down the M5 at Weston-super-Mare five years ago while on the books at Exeter, could have doubled his tally but for O’Leary, who also saved smartly from Ramsey late on.