SENIOR SPORTS WRITER
ZIMBABWE international Marvelous Nakamba continues to build a case for regular time after the midfielder featured in Aston Villa’s 0-1 win over Leeds United in an English Premier League encounter on Saturday.
The Warriors defensive linkman has tasted little action for Villa this year and that start over the weekend was only his third time to be picked in the first eleven.
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith made two changes heading into the Leeds encounter, bringing in Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey in midfield in place of Douglas Luiz and Ross Barkley.
Anwar El Ghazi netted the solitary goal in the fifth minute from an Ollie Watkins pass as Villa held on to yet another clean sheet, and 13th overall so far in the premiership.
“It’s really pleasing because it’s a really tough place to come. They’re a very good attacking team so to keep a clean sheet as well, very satisfying,” Smith told VillaTV after the match on Saturday.
“I thought we started the game really well, got the goal obviously, we wanted to press them high, play in their half and we did that. I thought it got stretched a little bit in the last 20 minutes of the first half.
“Second half we went into a lower block and I thought we defended really well and restricted them to few chances. They had the header at the end, that’s bounded wide, but I can’t remember Emi (Emiliano Martinez) making too many saves.”
For Nakamba it has been three premier league starts this year and all of them ending in victory and a clean sheet for the team. The Zimbabwean played 90 minutes in Villa’s 2-0 home win against Newcastle on January 23.
Here he displayed a near faultless display with 67 passes attempted, 66 completed, two interceptions, two tackles won, an aerial duel won and a single clearance.
“Marvelous has come in for John McGinn and I thought he had an excellent game on the ball,” Smith said of Nakamba’s performance against the Magpies in January.
The former Bantu Rovers, Vitesse and Club Brugge player got his second 90 minutes of action last month at home against Arsenal where they won 1-0.
Meanwhile, Warriors manager Wellington Mpandare has backed Nakamba to get more game time given his fine performance each time he is given the nod to play by Smith.
“Marvelous is a professional, a guy of few words who chooses to let his performance do the talking and we have no doubt the coaches are taking note of his progression,” Mpandare told the Daily News.
“Obviously, it comes as a massive boost for the national team coaches back home as well as they look towards the Afcon qualifiers against Botswana and Zambia this month.
“Our only worry is that Marvelous and the rest of the guys plying their trade in Europe won’t be caught up in travel restrictions so that they can be able to report home for national duty. We remain hopeful though that we will have them here.”
The Warriors embark on their final Africa Cup of Nations qualifying phase with two tricky ties against Botswana on March 22 away and a date against Zambia at the National Sports Stadium on March 30.
Respective wins against the two sides will see Zimbabwe cement their position in second place and qualify for the Afcon finals set for Cameroon next year.