Europa Conference League

Europa Conference League (113)

Boss Unai Emery admitted Aston Villa got lucky after fighting back to beat AZ Alkmaar.

Ollie Watkins’ winner put them on the brink of qualification in the Europa Conference League after a 2-1 home win.

Yet, the fightback started in controversial fashion when Diego Carlos levelled after Boubacar Kamara had blazed over and referee Luis Godinho mistakenly awarded Villa a corner.

Vangelis Pavlidis gave the hosts a deserved lead but last year’s semi-finalists are now facing an early exit.

Villa are second, behind Legia Warsaw on head-to-head, and a point from their final two games will seal progress from Group E.

Emery said: “It was a very good chance for Kamara, it was fantastic, but it was not a corner, it’s clear, and after this mistake we score.

“I’m very happy because when we are winning a game like tonight we can understand this competition better and the processes we’re trying to build.

“I’m very proud of our work in this competition. We’re getting better.

“We scored one that was offside more or less. We have to accept the referee’s decision, always.

“I’m very proud of our work in this competition. We’re getting better. AZ are a very good team. I’m very happy. The reaction when they scored the goal was fantastic.”

Villa started brightly and Clement Lenglet headed in Leon Bailey’s cross – after Pavlidis blocked Watkins’ goalbound header – only for the winger to have been ruled offside.

Yet the hosts lost their way as the half wore on, Pavlidis tried to lob Emi Martinez and Alkmaar finished on top with Pavlidis testing Martinez.

It turned out the striker was just getting his eye in as he opened the scoring six minutes into the second half.

Villa were caught out by Riechedly Bazoer’s ball over the top and Pavlidis outpaced Lenglet to beat Martinez.

The hosts were not behind for long, though, when Diego Carlos nodded in Bailey’s corner – after the officials had missed it was Kamara who blazed over from six yards.

Villa had the initiative and it was no surprise when Watkins popped up with the winner with nine minutes left, nodding in Douglas Luiz’s clever pass.

Alkmaar boss Pascal Jensen said: “The interesting thing I was looking at was can we compete better in the first game (a 4-1 loss)? In Alkmaar we lost because we conceded two easy goals.

“I was a bit shocked when we started off, we conceded an early goal and we were fortunate it was disallowed. We were very unfortunate to concede a corner which wasn’t, they scored from it and the whole stadium woke up.

“I contacted the fourth official and I asked him and he said ‘I don’t know.’ I think in international competition VAR can come on the radio and help but he didn’t. With all the technology and extra eyes it shouldn’t be possible.”

Ollie Watkins came to Aston Villa’s rescue as Unai Emery’s side hit back to beat AZ Alkmaar.

The striker celebrated his England call-up to nod in with nine minutes left for a 2-1 win and put Villa on the brink of the Europa Conference League knockout stages.

Diego Carlos’ controversial goal – heading in a corner which should have never been given – quickly cancelled out Vangelis Pavlidis’ opener.

Victory left Villa joint-top of Group E, behind Legia Warsaw on their head-to-head record, knowing a point from their final two games would guarantee progress.

Legia’s 2-0 win over Zrinjski Mostar earlier on Thursday had put the Polish side three points clear in the group.

Villa knew victory would virtually secure second spot and their superiority was telling early, the hosts thinking they had the lead after just three minutes.

Ezri Konsa’s shot was deflected behind and, from the corner, Watkins header was cleared off the line by Pavlidis. The ball ran to Leon Bailey and his cross was nodded in by Clement Lenglet – only for VAR to rule the goal out with Bailey offside.

Lenglet almost gifted Alkmaar an opener, though, when Pavlidis seized on his loose pass and tried to lob Emi Martinez before horribly misjudging Ibrahim Sadiq’s superb cross.

Mat Ryan tipped Youri Tielemans’ shot behind as Villa looked to regain some momentum but there would have been frustration for Emery as their early edge slipped away.

Alkmaar even had their own goal disallowed three minutes before the break when a neat move ended with Pavlidis tapping in, although the striker was comfortably offside.

The striker then tested Martinez after Villa played themselves into trouble as the visitors ended the half on top.

It proved a warning sign as, six minutes into the second half, the striker opened the scoring with a goal of pure simplicity.

Villa were caught out by Riechedly Bazoer’s ball over the top as Pavlidis ran clear of Lengent and beat Martinez for his 15th goal of the season.

Alkmaar had something to cling to, having been 3-0 down at the same stage in the Netherlands two weeks ago, and Yuki Sugawara’s shot deflected wide.

Yet Villa contentiously levelled after an hour. Lucas Digne’s cross was blazed over by Boubacar Kamara but referee Luis Godinho inexplicably gave a corner.

Somewhat inevitably, when Bailey delivered the ball Diego Carlos nodded in.

It gave Villa renewed confidence and, with time running out, Watkins grabbed the winner when he stole in ahead of Jordy Clasie to nod in Douglas Luiz’s fine pass.

Aberdeen manager Barry Robson was “gutted but so proud” after his side’s Europa Conference League qualification hopes ended with a 2-2 draw against PAOK in Greece.

Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes hit an early opener for the Dons who later quickly fought back from 2-1 down when Jamie McGrath scored a 30-yard free-kick in the 70th minute.

The Dons went for the win by putting on top goalscorer Bojan Miovski to join Duk up front but the home side finished the stronger team and both they and Eintracht Frankfurt sealed their place in the knockout stages.

The Dons have two points after suffering a narrow defeat in Germany and losing a two-goal lead to PAOK last time out as well as drawing with HJK Helsinki in an eventful encounter.

Robson told RedTV after the game in Thessaloniki: “A difficult one to take. You can see how good a side they are – they beat Olympiacos 4-2 at the weekend, they beat Eintracht Frankfurt here.

“We went toe to toe with them and gave them a real go and we have drawn 2-2. The home game we were 2-0 up after 78 minutes. I think Eintracht Frankfurt away was one of our best performances you will see in Europe for a long, long time.

“I sit here so frustrated and disappointed because we deserve to have more points on the board.

“We have been outstanding against some brilliant teams. If you go back to the Hacken games, Helsinki when we missed the chances, Eintracht Frankfurt away, two PAOK games, we have been outstanding. Little, wee details cost us.

“I am so gutted but I am so proud of my players. We have come into Europe and had a real go and that’s what I wanted.”

Robson believes his side will be better for the experience.

“It’s all about learning,” the former Celtic midfielder said. “I did it myself as a player, in every European game you get better, better and better.

“This is new to a lot of them, and these are big group games against
proper, proper teams.

“We passed the ball really well for bits in the first half and you know, with the quality they have, we are going to have to defend. We did that.

“I thought we might have carried a bit more of a threat but in the end we had a go, as hard as it was because of how heavy-legged the players were.

“I am so proud, and so proud of those fans. They were absolutely bouncing and they could see we tried to give them a win.”

Aberdeen manager Barry Robson maintained his pride in his side’s performance after their Europa Conference League defeat at the hands of Group G pacesetters PAOK Salonika, but questioned the purpose of VAR after a controversial evening.

It had all been going according to plan for Robson’s side, who weathered a first-half storm before going 2-0 up by the hour mark thanks to classy finishes from Bojan Miovski and Dante Polvara.

Defensive errors allowed the visitors to find their way back into the game, substitute Kiril Despodov handing his side a lifeline before captain Vieirinha fired home an 84th-minute leveller.

There was further heartbreak as a VAR-awarded penalty was converted by Stefan Schwab to complete the turnaround and seal a 3-2 win.

But what grabbed the ire of Robson was the lack of intervention from VAR Alan Kijas in what looked a stonewall spot-kick for the Dons when Jack MacKenzie was kicked in the penalty area with the score at 2-1.

“We all know the answer,” he said when asked if he felt his side had been denied a penalty. “We all make mistakes. I make mistakes, and we lost the game with players making mistakes.

“When VAR comes in, they’re there to look at things six times, and they still get it wrong? That’s my problem.”

Responding to suggestions there was no check for the incident, Robson fumed: “If that’s the case, what are they doing here? You’re as well taking it away. I’m told they’re supposed to check every incident.

“I don’t want to make it about that though. I want to make it about my players. We’ve lost 3-2 and am I frustrated? Yes. But I’m so proud of them.

“Mistakes happen in football, but I thought tactically they were excellent and we got better as the game went on. We should have had at least a point, and I’m just frustrated that we didn’t take at least a point.”

The first PAOK goal came directly after a triple substitution, and Robson explained the reasoning for the changes, saying: “We had to make them. The players were drained. We were trying to get them on earlier, and we were actually thinking about making more.”

Aberdeen’s hopes of navigating a route through the Europa Conference League Group stage suffered a major blow as they threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 against PAOK Salonika on a rollercoaster night at Pittodrie.

Having weathered heavy pressure in a goalless first half, Barry Robson’s men found themselves two goals to the good by the hour mark thanks to Bojan Miovski and Dante Polvara.

But a stunning comeback saw the Greek side take three points after goals from substitutes Kiril Despodov and captain Vieirinha, and a stoppage-time penalty, awarded after a VAR check, from Stefan Schwab.

The Dons started brightly and after nine minutes, a free-kick earned by Graeme Shinnie 25 yards out gave Connor Barron the chance to fire towards goal, but his effort was over the crossbar.

That seemed to awaken the visitors, who had eased their way into the game. A moment of brilliance from Ioannis Konstantelias saw the forward dance through the Dons defence before rolling a low shot off the base of the left-hand post.

The Dons were getting some joy on the left though, and Jamie McGrath’s industry saw him win the ball high up before being unceremoniously dumped by Schwab who picked up a yellow card for his troubles.

As time elapsed, the away side started to find openings, and a counter led by Konstantelias saw Kelle Roos come off his line to block the striker’s attempted chip.

The Dutch keeper was again well-placed just two minutes later to hold Schwab’s back-post header from a corner as the Dons held out for the half-time whistle.

But the home side came out all guns blazing after the break, with Barron claiming for a penalty after a kick to the head almost straight after the restart. The same man then swung in a free-kick that was headed by Polvara, forcing Dominik Kotarski into a first save of the game.

And two minutes later, the Dons were in front.

Again, it came from the left with McGrath and Jack MacKenzie exchanging passes before the latter drilled in a low cross which Miovski was able to swivel on before placing low into the bottom-left corner.

Soon after, it was two.

Barron picked up the ball in his own half and drove forward, finding Miovski who in turn released Polvara one-on-one with the keeper. The American kept his cool and dinked beyond Kotarski to send the Red Shed behind the goal into ecstasy.

The Greek side, however, pulled a goal back after 74 minutes, and it was an easy finish for substitute Despodov who stroked home with his first touch after being played in by Konstantelias, who took full advantage of Richard Jensen’s untimely slip.

Aberdeen could have had a penalty almost instantly as MacKenzie took a tumble in the box, but there was no award forthcoming.

The visitors took full advantage to draw level as Jonny Hayes’ clearing header proved wayward, falling for Vieirinha to smash an angled drive past a helpless Roos, with the aid of a deflection.

Aberdeen suddenly sprung back to life with chances for Jensen and McGrath late in the game and looked like holding on for a point before a late VAR award against Slobodan Rubezic allowed Schwab to complete the comeback.

Ollie Watkins continued his red-hot form as Aston Villa cruised to a statement 4-1 Europa Conference League win at AZ Alkmaar.

The striker netted his 10th goal of the season and fourth in Europe this season on Thursday.

Leon Bailey and Youri Tielemans – his first for Villa – put them in control in AZ Stadium after less than 25 minutes.

Vangelis Pavlidis wasted the hosts’ best chances but Watkins and John McGinn added more goals after the break in Holland before Ibrahim Sadiq grabbed a consolation.

It was the second time in two games Villa had scored four after their 4-1 Premier League win over West Ham on Sunday.

Unai Emery celebrated a year in charge on Tuesday and victory underlined the progress his side have made, having been floundering in 14th and three points above the relegation zone 12 months ago.

Villa host Alkmaar in two weeks knowing victory would see them take a giant leap to the knock-out stages, especially following an opening 3-2 defeat at Legia Warsaw in September.

After two games in Group E, all four teams were locked on three points but Villa moved to remedy that quickly, opening the scoring just 13 minutes in.

Watkins seized on a loose pass from Yukinari Sugawara and, while Boubacar Kamara’s ball was cut out, it fell for Bailey to control and rifle in low from the edge of the box.

Alkmaar cried handball but the goal stood and 10 minutes later, the hosts were 2-0 down.

Another poor pass, this time from Sven Mijnans, went straight to McGinn and his angled pass found Tielemans to bag his first Villa goal.

Yet, 90 seconds later, the hosts should have pulled a goal back when Pavlidis fired over with just Emi Martinez to beat after Kamara was dispossessed on the edge of the box.

Pavlidis had a goal disallowed for offside soon after but Villa regrouped and extended their lead six minutes after the break.

AZ were picked apart by Watkins, Tielemans and Bailey, who saw his shot saved by Matt Ryan but it fell perfectly for Watkins to tap in the rebound.

Five minutes later McGinn added a fourth when he turned in Bailey’s low cross at the near post.

Sadiq pulled a surprise goal back with 25 minutes left when he latched onto Bruno Martins Indi’s crossfield pass and drilled the ball into the corner from the edge of the box.

Tiago Dantas came close to a second, Tielemans deflecting his drive behind, with a comeback never on the cards.

Aberdeen manager Barry Robson felt his team wasted an opportunity to defeat HJK Helsinki and register their first win in the Europa Conference League.

The Reds dominated the match against their Finnish opponents but they failed to make their possession count as the teams played out a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie.

Robson said: “I am frustrated because we deserved to win the game.

“I am disappointed with the goal we lost because it was their only shot at goal but that was testament to the way we defended and pressed.”

“The frustration comes from having 17 shots and only scoring once.  We needed to be a bit more clinical and had we been done so, I think we could have won that game by three of four.”

“That was a good performance.”

“That is five games in a row where we have really performed and we have scored 11 goals but the sucker punch is Helsinki scoring with their one real chance.”

Robson was unimpressed by the standard of refereeing after Duk suffered a nasty head injury following an apparent elbow from Georgios Kanellopoulous in the first half.

Polish referee Daniel Stefanski was not asked by the VAR official to review the incident, which resulted in the Cape Verde international requiring treatment.

Robson said: “I was massively surprised he was not asked to look at it.

“I need to be careful on what I comment on but I think we all know the level of player and the level of game has to be officiated at the correct standard.

“I did not think the standard was correct tonight.

“There were a lot of things that happened out on the pitch that were not right for me.”

Boss Unai Emery insists Aston Villa’s 1-0 win over Zrinjski Mostar proves why their European rivals must be respected.

John McGinn’s added-time header saved Villa’s skins in the Europa Conference League.

Mostar, who beat AZ Alkmaar 4-3 last month, defended heroically and were two minutes away from a battling point at Villa Park.

It leaves Group E delicately poised after Villa lost their opener 3-2 at Legia Warsaw. Their 1-0 defeat at AZ on Thursday leaves all four teams locked on three points.

Emery said: “My message is always you have to respect every team. For them it’s very important to play in Europe, against us, to show their power as well. Their commitment in 90 minutes was amazing. It was not easy to break it.

“In the second half we played very well, we had chances and we scored in the end.

“I knew before the match it was going to be difficult because they are going to defend. That happened in the first half. Hopefully we can build a team with everybody.”

The Prince of Wales was also in the crowd to see Villa’s late show.

Emery added: “It’s the third time I’ve met him, he is welcome for us. He is really feeling emotion with us as well. He met with me, the players and the coaches. We spoke about Aston Villa and his wishes following us this year.”

Mostar threatened early when Antonio Ivancic lobbed over Emi Martinez but lacked any support to follow up and the Villa goalkeeper made a smart save to deny Nemanja Bilbija.

Nicolo Zaniolo saw shots blocked and had an overhead kick saved by the visitors, who were organised and comfortable.

Villa thought they had a penalty early in the second half when Ollie Watkins’ header hit Slobodan Jakovljevic in the face. Referee Urs Schnyder gave the spot-kick for handball but correctly changed his decision after viewing the replays.

Villa then camped in the Mostar half, Diego Carlos, Youri Tielemans and Zaniolo going close before McGinn’s late intervention.

Matty Cash crossed from the right and McGinn glanced in a header from six yards to spare the Premier League side.

Mostar boss Krunoslav Rendulic said: “Aston Villa won deservedly, we gave our maximum.

“We knew we could only put up a good defence in answer to their quality. Unfortunately that effort wasn’t rewarded. If we had defended that goal it would have been a great success.

“I can’t say anything against my players. In the second half we were suffering, we couldn’t go forward. We did defend very well. We couldn’t survive until the end and the final seconds were disastrous for us.”

Aberdeen came from behind to rescue a point against HJK Helsinki in the Europa Conference League at Pittodrie.

Despite creating the best opportunities in a cagey contest, the hosts fell behind just before the hour mark through Bojan Radulovic’s strike.

However, a fine header from Bojan Miovski saw the Dons get off the mark in Group G following their opening-match defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt a fortnight ago.

Aberdeen could have been ahead in the 11th minute when Richard Jensen found space to get on the end of Leighton Clarkson’s corner but he was unable to direct his header on target from 10 yards out.

As the Dons continue to press in the early stages, HJK goalkeeper Jesse Ost came to the visitors’ rescue in the 21st minute. Stefan Gartenmann clipped a precise pass on to the head of Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes, whose glancing effort was well saved by Ost.

Having won their last three matches in all competitions, the home team looked confident and Miovski flashed a header wide from another Gartenmann centre in the 27th minute.

But two lengthy stoppages for nasty head wounds sustained by Duk and Jensen resulted in Barry Robson’s men losing some of their momentum in the run up to half-time, the latter temporarily leaving the field of play so a huge gash above his eye could be stitched up.

Early in the second half, Jamie McGrath was presented with a decent opportunity after Miovski and Clarkson combined but the Irishman, who netted in the Reds’ 3-1 against Rangers at Ibrox last weekend, shot wide from 12 yards.

However, the Finnish side offered threats of their own and Tuomas Ollila delivered an excellent low cross across the six-yard box which ought to have been snapped up by a team-mate.

That served as a warning for the Dons, who fell behind in the 59th minute. Pyry Soiri’s cutback from the right flank was swept high into the net by Radulovic from 10 yards.

Miovski should have levelled in the 71st minute when he was picked out by substitute Connor Barron but his volley down into the ground was turned behind by Ost.

But the North Macedonia international made amends in the 79th minute with a precision header to make it 1-1. Jonny Hayes, who was effective off the bench, saw his cross flicked on by Miro Tenho and Miovski superbly glanced the ball into the bottom corner.

Duk then wasted a great chance to score the winner moments later when he chased down a long punt forward only to see his shot saved by Ost as the teams shared the points.

John McGinn’s last-gasp winner saved Aston Villa from embarrassment as they laboured to an uninspiring 1-0 victory against Zrinjski Mostar.

The captain netted in the fourth minute of added time to break battling Mostar hearts.

It looks like Villa’s Europa Conference League campaign would continue to stutter until then after the hosts were left frustrated by their organised and combative opponents, who refused to buckle until stoppage time.

Despite dominating, Villa struggled to break Mostar down and had a penalty call reversed in the second half.

Referee Urs Schnyder changed his decision to award a spot-kick for handball after replays showed Ollie Watkins’ header hit Slobodan Jakovljevic in the face.

Nemanja Bilbija wasted the visitors’ best opening in the first half as the Bosnian champions fell just short in the Group E clash.

Ezri Konsa, unfortunate to be left out of the latest England squad, confessed to having never heard of the visitors. He would not have been the only one.

Boss Krunoslav Rendulic called it the biggest game in the visitors’ history and the club which gave a 17-year-old Luka Modric his professional debut were a nuisance from the start.

Antonio Ivancic briefly threatened first, lobbing the ball over Emi Martinez only to lack support, before the goalkeeper needed to parry Bilbija’s shot after Marijo Cuze’s low cross.

In between, Nicolo Zaniolo twice threatened but it was a chance Mostar should have taken. They had, at least, sapped the energy from Villa Park in the opening 20 minutes and the hosts’ frustrations were underlined when McGinn was booked for an obvious dive.

As a team Villa are still learning to adapt to European football and the opening 3-2 defeat at Legia Warsaw did little to justify their favourites tag in the competition. In the first half at Villa Park, there were even fewer hints.

Mostar fought back from 3-0 down to beat AZ Alkmaar 4-3 last month and were comfortable, Zaniolo’s overhead kick allowing goalkeeper Marko Maric to offer a save for the cameras but there was little else to trouble them.

Unai Emery had seen enough and summoned Watkins, Douglas Luiz and Matty Cash from the bench and their arrival lifted Villa.

Watkins conjured a chance for Diego Carlos, only for the defender to get his header all wrong and the striker thought he had earned a penalty eight minutes into the second half.

Cash’s cross was met by Watkins, whose header cannoned into the face of Jakovljevic – with official Schnyder giving a spot-kick for handball.

It was clear, though, the ball hit the defender in the face and once Schnyder had checked his monitor he correctly overturned the decision.

It did finally light a fire under Villa and Maric saved Diego Costa’s header as
the hosts camped in Mostar’s half for the rest of the game.

Youri Tielemans and Zaniolo went close before McGinn rescued the hosts in stoppage time.

Cash got free on the right and crossed for the midfielder to nod in from six yards.

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