Villa make a right royal impression with narrow Europa Conference League victory

By Sports Desk April 11, 2024 144

Aston Villa earned royal approval as the Prince of Wales watched his beloved club beat Lille 2-1 in the first leg of their Europa Conference League quarter-final at Villa Park.

Goals in either half from Ollie Watkins and John McGinn saw Villa lead their first European last-eight tie since 1998 and give boss Unai Emery victory in his 1,000th match as a manager.

Prince William and his son Prince George celebrated the goals wildly but will have been concerned about what happened at the other end.

Bafode Diakite’s late header gave Lille a lifeline just as it looked like they would head home frustrated by Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who had made a string of big saves.

Villa must now go to northern France next week and finish the job if they are to make their first European semi-final since they won the European Cup in 1982.

That will not be an easy task as the French football federation have postponed Lille’s Ligue 1 game this weekend to give them extra time to prepare and they have only been beaten once at home all season.

After an early scare, which required a vital intervention from Pau Torres to deny Hakon Arnar Haraldsson a tap-in following Diego Carlos’ error, Villa took command.

Lille boss Paulo Fonseca, perenially linked with a move to England, said in his pre-match press conference that his side would pay special attention to Watkins, but allowed him three quickfire chances.

The first came after Watkins capitalised on Leny Yoro’s dive and was denied by Benjamin Andre’s last-ditch tackle, with the England striker shooting straight at Lucas Chevalier from the resulting corner.

It was from another corner that Watkins did get on the scoresheet in the 13th minute, as he was left unmarked from McGinn’s corner to power home a header from close range, though Lille thought there was a foul by Morgan Rogers.

Only another last-ditch tackle from Diakhite denied Watkins a second after Douglas Luiz had played him in, but from the resulting corner Villa were almost stung on the counter-attack.

Former Tottenham and Newcastle midfielder Nabil Bentaleb’s ball fell to Edon Zhegrova at the far post and he looked primed to score until Martinez came out to smother the shot.

That gave Lille confidence and they looked a threat, with Martinez producing an almost identical stop to deny Diakhite after Haraldsson had set him clear.

Martinez was quickly becoming Villa’s key player and produced another block to keep his side in front after a misplaced pass from Rogers allowed Lille to break, although star man Jonathan David was unable to get his shot past the World Cup winner.

The half-time break proved welcome for Villa, who came out with a roar after the break and doubled their lead in the 56th minute.

It was another corner that did the job as Leon Bailey’s scuffed cross fell perfectly to McGinn, who stroked home delightfully from the edge of the penalty area.

Villa seemed in total control but Lille gave them a scare in the 63rd minute when Gudmondsson converted at the far post, only for VAR to decide he was narrowly offside.

Martinez again showed his quality with saves from Gudmondsson and Haraldsson but he was eventually breached in the 84th minute as an unmarked Diakite glanced home from a corner.

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Last modified on Thursday, 11 April 2024 17:44
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