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JOHN McGINN had stated just how much this match mattered to Aston Villa – and perhaps that explained why, when it was all going so wrong for his side, he lost his head.

The likeable Scot is known for being a combative midfielder but not a dirty one.

Which is why his wild and aggressive kick-out on Destiny Udogie, shortly after Spurs’ quickfire double through James Maddison and Brennan Johnson, seemed so out of character.

The man advantage allowed Spurs to run riot, with Son Heung-min scoring a third and teeing up a fourth for sub Timo Werner.


McGinn had labelled this game the “most important” league fixture in years in the build-up, given a win for Villa would go a hell of a long way to securing a Champions League finish.

Spurs went into this five points behind their fourth-placed hosts, albeit with a game to play.

Lose and that would be extended to eight which would surely KO their chances of usurping Unai Emery’s men.

Yet now the gap is only two points, with Spurs having the game advantage and a marginally preferable run-in, save for a horrendous-looking end of April/early May.

Fifth place may still be enough for qualification to Europe’s elite club competition if the coefficient battle goes England’s way.

But even so, Villa will know what an opportunity missed this was.

And why McGinn, who had never been red-carded for Villa before today, became so frustrated.

Emery may well be kicking himself too from a tactical perspective.

James Maddison gives young Tottenham fan ‘memory to last a lifetime’ as England star shows his true colours
The Spaniard has played a blinder for most of the season but his surprise tweak here to go to five at the back looked a mistake.

Perhaps it was due to Villa’s exertions in Europe, drawing at Ajax on Thursday before the second leg with the Dutch giants in three days.

But it hindered their attacking output, with man-of-the-moment Ollie Watkins feeding off scraps.

Emery’s rejigged system saw Matty Cash pushed from right-back to wing-back.

The Polish international had become Public Enemy No1 with Spurs supporters after injuring Rodrigo Bentancur and Matt Doherty with poor tackles in the last two years.

Cash received dog’s abuse at every opportunity from the travelling fans, especially when he prepared to take a throw-in right in front of them midway through the first half.

The only chance – or half-chance, really – of a dreary first half came when Lucas Digne diverted McGinn’s cross off his shoulder just wide of the far post.

This game pitted arguably the striker and defender of the season against each other in Ollie Watkins and Micky Van de Ven.

“A pivotal goal in a pivotal match!”

But Spurs’ defender Van de Ven was forced off through injury minutes into the second period.

The jet-heeled Dutchman had just flung himself in front of a shot from Leon Bailey – who was offside anyway – and seconds later, collapsed to the turf.

Encouragingly, Van de Ven managed to walk off the pitch but headed straight down the tunnel, to be replaced by January signing Radu Dragusin.

Van de Ven probably was still on his way to the dressing room when Maddison put Spurs ahead.

It came from a pinpoint cross from Pape Matar Sarr, who laid the ball on a plate for Maddison to poke past Emi Martinez.

The England star then had a bit of fun with the home crowd, who had been ribbing him for his Leicester connections, by throwing imaginary darts their way in celebration.

Maddison broke the deadlock just after half-time.
Three minutes later, Spurs doubled their lead after capitalising on some lax play by Ezri Konsa.

The Villa defender dilly-dallied on the ball and then played it behind Youri Tielemans, allowing Dejan Kulusevski to intercept.

He then passed it onto Son, who fed Johnson to finish high into the net.

The ex-Nottingham Forest man followed up Maddison by telling the Villa fans to keep quiet as he wheeled away.

A visibly-peeved Emery responded with a three-sub change, bringing on Nicolo Zaniolo, Moussa Diaby and Alex Moreno, doing away with his back five in the process.

Among the players to come off was centre-back Clement Lenglet, who spent last season on loan at Spurs before temporarily joining Villa from Barcelona this term.

But the new players’ chance to make a difference evaporated when McGinn had his moment of madness on 65 minutes.

Spurs full-back Udogie was embarking on one of his stereotypical dribbles when Villa’s captain came rushing across and went right through him with an X-rated tackle.

The young Italian reacted angrily, as did his team-mates and staff, in a mini melee by the touchline.

Emery did his best to drag McGinn away, while Spurs boss Ange Postecglou also tried to act as peace-maker.

It was such a bad challenge that the red card subsequently produced by ref Chris Kavanagh was the only course of action.

The game was up at that point, with the only question remaining whether Spurs were going to rub any more salt into their top-four rivals’ wounds.

Son provided the answer of a resounding yes as he dispatched Kulusevski’s cutback in injury time, before then teeing up Werner to do the same three minutes later.

The pressure was on going into this important game – as McGinn’s pre-match comments underlined – but only one team managed to win.

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