By Anthony Onifade

20th Nov, 2023 | 9:52pm

Aston Villa star Ollie Watkins fails Gareth Southgate audition for England in 1-1 draw v North Macedonia

Aston Villa star Ollie Watkins was handed a rare starting opportunity for England against Macedonia on Monday (20 November) but failed to take his chance.

The Three Lions could only record an unconvincing 1-1 draw in Skopje but ensured they will be in the top seeds for next month’s Euro 2024 group stage draw, finishing their group stage campaign with 20 points from eight matches.

The hosts were awarded a controversial penalty at the end of the first half when England debutant Rico Lewis caught striker Bojan Miovski with his hand as he jumped to head the ball away.

North Macedonia captain Enis Bardhi put his side ahead from the rebound after his spot-kick was saved by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

England equalised in the 59th minute when Phil Foden’s corner deflected in off Macedonian Jani Atanasov under pressure from Harry Kane. However, it was a night to forget for Watkins.

The former Brentford forward has banged in 11 goals from 19 matches in all competitions, as well as chipping in with five assists and could well have added to that tally but missed a guilt-edged headed chance in the first half from a Phil Foden cross.

The 27-year-old last featured for the Three Lions in the 1-0 win over Australia at Wembley on 13 October where he grabbed the all-important goal to add to his stunning tally so far this season.

Watkins has netted six goals and laid on five assists in the Premier League to help fire Villa to fifth place after 12 matches, with his five Europa Conference League goals also keeping their European dream alive.

In fact, only two players have been directly involved in more league goals than Watkins (26) in 2023, with the Villa ace recording 18 goals and eight assists.

Manchester City star Erling Haaland leads the way with 36 (28 goals, eight assists), followed by Liverpool hero Mohamed Salah with 34 (22 goals, 12 assists), as per Sky Sports (15 November).

However, other than that chance from Foden’s cross, Watkins never looked threatening for his country and that may have certainly been down to the lack of creativity around him before being hooked off by Southgate in the 58th minute.

As per SofaScore, Watkins actually completed 100% of his passes, 100% of his aerial duels and only lost possession once, but lost 100% of his ground duels. However, it was his attacking influence Southgate would have been looking for and he unfortunately lacked in that department, missing two big chances with one shot off target.

It was certainly a performance Watkins will not look back on with fond memories but he certainly wasn’t the only one.

Manager Unai Emery will be delighted he has his star man returning to Villa Park in top fitness shape, however, because they have a huge test against Tottenham on Sunday (26 November).

In other Aston Villa news, Emery must stick with one Villa Park midfield maestro v Spurs on 26 November after his recent international masterclass.