Unai Emery relieved to survive scare as Aston Villa draw blank at Ajax

By Sports Desk March 07, 2024 192

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery knows his side survived a scare in their goalless draw at Ajax in their last-16 Europa Conference League first-leg tie.

Villa were second best throughout the night at the Johan Cruijff ArenA but the Dutch giants, led by England international Jordan Henderson, could not make their advantage count as it ended 0-0.

But Emery’s men will now be confident of winning next week’s second leg at Villa Park, where they are so strong, and booking their spot in the quarter-finals.

“It is always difficult to play away in Europe, here you see the atmosphere they have,” he said.

“It was a very high level match, we are taking experiences in Europe and we can feel favourites but it’s very difficult and if you’re showing in other matches in Europa League or the Europa Conference League you can see some big surprises.

“I’m happy, we didn’t play well, we didn’t control the game like we prepared and like we usually do but I accept that as well.

“They worked and they were very intense in the tactical play. They were winning more than us in some moments in the field and they deserve more.

“I’m happy because I knew before the difficulties we were going to face, the players are a little bit upset because they were not feeling comfortable but to compete is the most important.

“For me now it’s very important this result is open for next week and now we will try to do something different and try to respect them, because now we know them better.

“My message before was the same. At Villa Park we need our moment next week and try to play and be more successful than today in our idea.

“We didn’t deserve more than we got tonight.”

Villa were reliant on goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to produce an important save in the second half and were unable to produce their dynamic attacking football at the other end.

Both sides were reduced to 10 men in the final 10 minutes as Ezri Konsa was harshly sent off for two yellow cards, with Tristan Gooijer following for the hosts moments later.

Ajax are nothing like the side that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League five years ago and are labouring in fifth in the Eredivisie.

They signed Henderson in the January transfer window to try and provide some experience and coach John van ‘t Schip says he is already delivering and could still do a job for England.

“He is a real professional, he is a leader, I think you can see it on the pitch, the boys around him feel that and expect that.

“He had a difficult start because he came out of Saudi Arabia and didn’t play for a month and he wasn’t happy. He immediately found his pleasure back in training and playing games.

“At first he maybe didn’t get the results he wanted but now clearly you can see he is very important, not only on the pitch but also off the pitch, talking about things that can improve the whole environment.

“We have seen him play today and against PSV, two big games, then for sure and I think Southgate knows very well what he can get from Jordan.”

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Last modified on Thursday, 07 March 2024 17:38
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