When the ball looped through the air and threatened to fall between the Aston Villa striker and the Newcastle United keeper, you just knew there would be only one winner.
Ollie Watkins jumped the highest, put his body on the line and threw himself on the ball. The relief on his face said it all. The 25-year-old had ended his nine-game scoreless drought and silenced the tiny percentage of critics or skeptics questioning his Premier League credentials.
In truth, those who questioned his abilities at this level must have just glanced at the stats, rather than tuning in to catch Watkins in action for the entire 90 minutes.
Because when you sit down and focus on what the striker brings to a game outside of the cold, hard facts and figures, you quickly realize that he was born to face defenders at the highest level.
His first goal of the evening highlighted one of his greatest strengths: his instinct. Watkins can smell the goals and he stays alert for any hope of the ball hitting his feet. And when it does, he will wait.
That moment came in the 13th minute, as he predicted Fabian Schar might miss his interception, and sniffed the opportunity before scorer Karl Darlow had time to flatten him. He was a brave head, but Watkins won’t tell you it was courage – he’ll tell you it was his instinct.
His second major talking point came soon after, when he demonstrated two of his other key traits: movement and clinical finish. Watkins is a real live wire, buzzing around the opposition baseline and slipping between the scorers on every given opportunity.
He loves to drift in large areas and wander like a hawk, waiting to pounce on his prey. And he did just that, studying Jack Grealish’s slide on the pitch and anticipating his murderous pass. Watkins kicked in, rushing for the ball deep and slipping a perfect home shot without a second thought.
Unfortunately, he had jumped the gun this time, but it was clear that confidence was running through his veins.
In the end, it was his pace of work and his ability when not aiming for the goal that impressed viewers the most – again. Watkins made it his mission to terrorize and harass every central defender, appearing left, right and middle without warning.
He anticipated every pass to come in his way, sprinting angles to receive long kicks downstream from Emi Martinez, and sending the ball out of the sky and under his spell with deadly precision. Then, back on goal, he would wait for support, hold back his marker and make another penetrating run behind a tattered Newcastle defense.
The Villa star knows exactly when to run short, when to stretch the baseline, or when to lower his head, charge forward and draw desperate tackles from tired defenders.
Watkins knows how to get every center-back to close their eyes at night and see the forward’s face – or more specifically, see his back pull away in the distance.
And as for Watkins, he will sleep as deeply as he always should, knowing that scoring goals is only a fraction of his well-balanced and dynamic style of play. Appreciate him, Villans, just as much as his teammates.