Europa Conference League

Europa Conference League (113)

Aston Villa have been drawn to face AZ Alkmaar, Legia Warsaw and Zrinjski in Group E of the Europa Conference League.

The Premier League club hosted their first European game in 13 years on Thursday night, sealing their place in the group-stage draw with an 8-0 aggregate win over Hibernian in their qualifying play-off.

Aberdeen, the only other British club in the group stage of European football’s third-tier competition, have been drawn in Group G alongside Eintracht Frankfurt, PAOK Athens and Helsinki.

The cinch Premiership side dropped into the Europa Conference League after losing to Swedish champions Hacken 5-3 on aggregate in their Europa League qualifier.

Villa’s Group E opponents Zrinjski are the first team from Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach the group stages of a UEFA club competition.

The 32 teams who featured in the draw, which took place in Monaco after the Europa League group-stage draw, is comprised of the 22 winners in the ECL play-off round along with the 10 losers in the Europa League play-off round.

The clubs were seeded in four pots of eight teams, in accordance with UEFA’s club coefficient rankings. Villa were in pot two, Aberdeen in pot four.

Frankie McAvoy is adamant Hearts are capable of turning around their Europa Conference League play-off against PAOK in Greece next week despite suffering a frustrating 2-1 first-leg defeat at Tynecastle.

Lawrence Shankland’s early penalty gave the Jambos a lead but it was swiftly cancelled out by a spot-kick from Stefan Schwab.

Shankland then had a goal ruled out for offside following a VAR check before a 75th-minute strike against the run of the play from Andrija Zivkovic gave the Greeks a crucial advantage.

Hearts must now pull off a victory in the intimidating Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki next Thursday if they are to qualify for the group stage, but McAvoy remains optimistic.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game and a tight affair,” said the head coach. “It was disappointing that we scored then they got a penalty so early after it.

“Then we score with Shanks and the elation then turned to a sour note when it got chopped off. Then they score from a corner.

“As for emotions, I’m disappointed with the result but in spells I felt our shape without the ball was really good. They’re a good team and they try to hit on the counter and there were some pleasing moments.

“We know what we’ve got to do now – we’ve got to win the game and I believe it’s possible for us to do that. That’s what we’ve got to look forward to in the next leg.

“We just need to make sure we’re prepared as best we can for going to Greece next week knowing that we’ve got to go and win the game.”

McAvoy believes Hearts showed in Thursday’s first leg that they have enough attacking threats to score in Greece next week.

“I thought when we got into good areas we caused them problems,” he said. “First half their keeper made a fantastic save from Shanks, so we know we’ll create chances.

“I think our wide players could cause them issues. We’ve got a good squad. We’ll deal with Dundee as best we can (in the cinch Premiership on Sunday) then really focus on what we’ve got to do in Greece.

“We’ve come a long way since myself, Steven Naismith and Gordon Forrest came in (as a management team at the end of last season) and the players have great belief in themselves.

“That’s important going forward and we’ll have that at the forefront of our minds when we go to Greece next week.”

Hearts suffered a further setback as they lost Barrie McKay to injury midway through the setback.

“It’s too early to say, he felt something in his knee,” said McAvoy, when asked about the extent of the problem. “The guys have to assess it to find how bad it is but it’s too early at the moment.”

Hearts’ hopes of reaching the Europa Conference League group stage sustained a major dent on Thursday night as they suffered a frustrating 2-1 defeat at home to Greek side PAOK in the first leg of their play-off round tie.

The Jambos made the ideal start when they went ahead through Lawrence Shankland’s early penalty, but the visitors equalised with a spot-kick of their own shortly afterwards.

Hearts enjoyed the bulk of the pressure thereafter and Shankland saw a goal ruled out for offside just before Andrija Zivkovic’s superb 75th-minute strike against the run of the play handed the Greeks the initiative.

The cinch Premiership side now face the formidable task of needing a victory at the hostile Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki next Thursday if they are to prolong their European run into the group stage.

Hearts made four changes to the team that started Sunday’s 4-0 Viaplay Cup victory over Partick Thistle as Odel Offiah, Toby Sibbick, Calem Nieuwenhof and Alex Lowry were replaced by Nathaniel Atkinson, Stephen Kingsley, Cammy Devlin and Liam Boyce.

Backed by another packed Tynecastle crowd, the hosts started on the front foot and there were loud shouts for a penalty in the sixth minute when Kenneth Vargas fell under a challenge from Rafa Soares as he burst into the PAOK box.

Latvian referee Andris Treimanis initially was not convinced but after VAR intervened and following a lengthy check of the pitchside monitor, he pointed to the spot. Three minutes after the foul was committed, Shankland, having kept his composure amid the tension, slotted his kick into the net.

The hosts’ celebrations were short-lived, however. Just two minutes after going ahead, they let the Greeks back into it when Kye Rowles chopped down Serbia forward Zivkovic in the box.

It was a clear penalty and captain Stefan Schwab duly tucked his kick beyond Zander Clark, much to the delight of the partisan 300-strong band of travelling fans.

Hearts almost regained the lead in the 31st minute when Devlin’s cross into the box was glanced towards goal by the head of Shankland but goalkeeper Dominik Kotarski did superbly to claw it out. Vargas and Shankland both had attempts to force the rebound in before Boyce, who looked certain to score from six yards out on the follow-up, saw his shot blocked by Soares.

The Jambos threatened again two minutes into the second half when Kingsley flashed an angled half-volley just beyond the far post after PAOK failed to deal with Alex Cochrane’s free-kick into the box.

The Edinburgh side – who lost Barrie McKay to injury just after the hour – thought they had gone ahead in the 66th minute when Shankland curled a superb finish into the top corner after being played in by Boyce just inside the box but after a VAR check, and following lengthy celebrations from the hosts, the scorer was ruled to be offside.

It proved a pivotal moment as PAOK got themselves ahead in the 75th minute when Zivkovic fired home a ferocious low strike from just outside the box after a corner kick was worked into his path, sparking wild celebrations among the visiting players and supporters.

Lee Johnson claims his Hibernian side were up against an Aston Villa side with “almost superhuman” qualities in their 5-0 Europa Conference League thrashing at Easter Road.

It was the Midlands club’s first European tie in 13 years and the first leg of their qualifying play-off tie was won by the interval thanks to three headers, two by England international Ollie Watkins and one from Jamaica’s Leon Bailey.

Watkins grabbed his hat-trick three minutes after the restart with and Douglas Luiz adding a fifth from the spot in the 74th minute to make next week’s second leg at Villa Park all but academic.

It was Johnson’s 500th competitive game in management and he tried to put the defeat into context as he turned his attention to the visit of Livingston in the Premiership on Saturday.

He said: “I think we have a really good, honest bunch of players. I trust them and they give their all every day.

“There is a difference. Premier League players now are almost superhuman in their athleticism. It’s the super-elite from all over the world and that’s what you get.

“It was a good experience, and I don’t think it will affect confidence going into the Livingston game.

“But the physical recovery is really key for us because we are a team that needs to use our running power and our physicality at our level to maximise our performances.

“I’m still proud of the club for being at this level on this stage. The reality is we have an English League One budget against a fantastic multi-international standard Aston Villa.

“It was clear there was a gulf in class, I can’t deny that.

“At half-time we wanted to salvage some pride and look like we were going to go and win the half. We started it pretty well and got behind them, but that’s the difference – one break, one poor positional error, one quality pass and a great finish.

“Having played against Premier League teams in the past, you cannot make positional errors because they’re punished.

“So I hope this experience is a good one, because your lessons can become your teacher. We can grow from having felt the quality of the athleticism, the touch and the tactical work that Villa did tonight.”

Villa boss Unai Emery was pleased with the way his side approached their biggest away win in Europe.

He said: “If we weren’t competitive and serious we could have had problems.

“We spoke before the match about how we had to respect the opponents and be focused and consistent in our game plan.

“We knew if we weren’t we could have lost. We were focused and disciplined and consistent for 90 minutes. That is the mentality I want to create here.”

Emery revealed he replaced goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with Robin Olsen for the start of the second half because the World Cup winner “had a small pain and we didn’t want to take a risk with him”.

Former Hibs favourite John McGinn captained Villa and was a powerhouse in midfield to the delight of his boss.

“He is amazing,” said Emery.

“I know you love him here more than me, but I think he is amazing.

“He always wants, from the first minute to the 90th minute, to run and to be competitive.

“I am very happy with him. And not only as a player, as a person as well. His commitment is very high.

“He is always positive, always smiling. In bad moments, in good moments, he always keeps the same mentality. It is fantastic.”

Ollie Watkins grabbed a hat-trick as Aston Villa effectively booked their place in the Europa Conference League with a 5-0 away win over Hibernian.

It was the Midlands club’s first European tie in 13 years and the first leg of their qualifying play-off tie was done and dusted by the interval after three headers, two by England international Watkins and one from Jamaica’s Leon Bailey.

The second half promised more pain for the stunned Premiership outfit and Watkins delivered another blow three minutes after the restart before Douglas Luiz added a fifth from the spot in the 74th minute of a one-sided contest.

It was Lee Johnson’s 500th competitive game in management and the Hibs boss will know the emphatic scoreline could have been worse.

The chasm in quality between the top-flight in Scotland and England was laid bare and it did not make for good viewing for those north of the border.

Heavy favourites or not, Unai Emery was taking the game seriously, making one change to his side which beat Everton 4-0 in the Premier League at the weekend with Matty Cash making way for Diego Carlos.

Former Hibs favourite John McGinn’s returned to Leith as Villa captain and he heard some early boos from the home fans, but they soon had more to worry about.

Johnson had the pace of Martin Boyle, Elie Youan and Dylan Vente in attack but they got little encouragement early on.

David Marshall saved a Lucas Digne header and a deflected strike from Moussa Diaby, but Hibs succumbed in the 17th minute when Digne’s cross from the left was glanced in by Watkins to the cheers of around 1,000 away fans.

Watkins should have doubled that lead three minutes later but – unmarked – he headed a McGinn cross over the bar.

Hibs came back and there was a penalty claim in the 26th minute when Boyle went to ground in the box as he tangled with Villa’s Douglas Luiz but Spanish referee Ricardo de Burgos was unimpressed.

Villa always looked dangerous when driving forward and in the 32nd minute, when Douglas Luiz swung in a corner from the left, Diego Carlos flicked on and Watkins stole in at the back post to head into the roof of the net.

Reality had set in for the home side.

McGinn played his part in Villa’s third, sending the tireless Digne down the left and when his delightful cross floated over Marshall, Bailey nodded in from almost on the line in the 42nd minute.

There was time before the break for Watkins to narrowly miss the target with an angled-drive.

Emery replaced World Cup-winning goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with Robin Olsen for the start of the second half and the Sweden international soon tipped a shot from Youan over the bar, but Villa survived the corner before extending their lead.

Watkins confidently slid the ball into the net from another Digne delivery after getting away from the Hibs defence. His effort was initially ruled offside only for the VAR to confirm the goal was legal.

Hibs needed to prevent further embarrassment but after defender Lewis Stevenson tripped tricky substitute Bertrand Traore in the box, Douglas Luiz knocked in the penalty.

Villa cruised the rest of the game and the demoralised home side welcomed the final whistle which to all intents and purpose signalled the end of their European hopes this season.

Elie Youan believes Hibernian have earned the right to dream of the Europa Conference League group stage after seeing off Luzern to set up a play-off against Aston Villa.

Hibs will host Villa in the first leg next Wednesday after a 2-2 draw in Switzerland sealed a 5-3 aggregate win.

Youan played a major role in the triumph, scoring an early opener in Lucerne before setting up Martin Boyle to level on the night and thrill the Hibs fans, who have seen their team lose their opening two league games.

Youan told the club’s website: “It was a very tough game. We beat them at home so we knew what to expect from them. We knew they would be attacking, but we expected this type of game.

“We handled it very well, got ourselves a draw and now were through to the next round.

“It was important for us not to lose after the result against Motherwell at the weekend.

“The fans made a lot of effort to travel out to Switzerland, some made a lot of long journeys to get here so it was very important to win for them.”

The former Nantes and St Gallen player added: “It was a special, special night. It was even more special for me because I was back here in Switzerland. I played here for one-year-and-a-half in Switzerland and I’ve never won in Luzern so that was an added bonus.”

Youan is looking to create even more special memories by dumping Villa out of the competition.

“If we want to get to the Conference League groups then we have to beat a good team,” the 24-year-old said.

“We can keep dreaming – anything can happen in this competition.”

Hibs will first have to take care of a Viaplay Cup second-round clash Raith Rovers at Easter Road on Sunday and manager Lee Johnson knows he faces some tough decisions.

Johnson admitted after last Sunday’s defeat by Motherwell that his squad were struggling to meet their early-season demands and a fixture clash with Hearts means his players will have one day less to recover and prepare for their next European game.

Johnson told Hibs TV: “Obviously we are going to have to play at 5.45 on Wednesday and a Sunday game, and I know how important the Sunday one is to all of us as well.

“Listen, we have got to find the energy from somewhere, whether that’s changing the team or the boys just resting and recovering, because it’s a big game. It’s a big game for them and a big game for us, and then obviously we go into Aston Villa on Wednesday.”

Johnson will be without the suspended Rocky Bushiri against Raith, while Dylan Levitt is ruled out with an ankle injury that will be assessed in the coming days.

Hibernian manager Lee Johnson praised his “warriors” after a 2-2 draw in Switzerland set up a European clash with Aston Villa.

Villa captain John McGinn will bring his team to Easter Road next Wednesday for the first leg of the Europa Conference League play-offs after Hibs secured a 5-3 aggregate victory over Luzern.

Elie Youan scored early to put Hibs three ahead on aggregate and then set up Martin Boyle for a 73rd-minute equaliser after Luzern had got in front on the night.

Backed by about 1,000 travelling fans, Hibs saw out the game to ensure they progressed through a second European round in a season for only the second time in 50 years.

Johnson told Hibs TV: “I’m super proud. I’m proud of everybody – the board, the fans, the staff who work ever so hard, and the players. The players have been absolute Trojans.

“This was a stretch game for us, they are a quality side. The boys have worked so hard, they have had to double up,  run forward, run back, make big angles.

“When we had to see the game out, there were some really good passages of play.

“There were some big, big warrior-type performances. The fans massively played their part.

“It just goes to show we are building something here. Everybody is frustrated with us, and we are as well, with our league start in terms of the two losses.

“But this is a sign we can compete at this type of level and we just keep building the club and pushing it forward.”

Hibs reached the European Cup semi-finals in the competition’s first season in 1955-56 and made the last four and two quarter-finals of the Fairs Cup in the 1960s and the European Cup Winners’ Cup last eight in 1972-73.

But recent forays into Europe have not been successful.

Johnson added: “Hibs haven’t been amazing in the past in terms of Europe. This goes down as one of the biggest wins over two legs, probably in the club’s history. For that we are extremely proud and now obviously we bring on Aston Villa.”

Frankie McAvoy savoured “a special occasion” at a packed Tynecastle as Hearts staged a stunning fightback to edge out Rosenborg in a dramatic Europa Conference League qualifier.

Cammy Devlin scored the decisive goal in stoppage time to secure a 3-1 win on the night and a 4-3 aggregate triumph, setting up a play-off round showdown with Greek side PAOK.

Head coach McAvoy believes it was a night to remember for the packed Tynecastle crowd as the Jambos clawed their way back into the match after trailing 3-1 on aggregate six minutes into the second leg.

“It was a roller coaster of emotions at the side of the pitch,” he said.

“We lost an early goal, which wasn’t ideal if I’m honest with you. And we looked a little tentative at the beginning, I don’t know if the occasion got to some of us.

“But character sums up the team. We came back, 3-1 down on aggregate, to win 4-3 on the night and the players deserve immense credit.

“The support drove us on, it was a special occasion. Tynecastle under the lights is difficult and daunting for anyone.

“Rosenborg are a good team, you saw that tonight. They had more of the ball than they did last week and they were more in our faces.

“So over the piece I am delighted for everyone connected with Hearts that we’re through to the next round.

“The ultras behind the goal really make it a big occasion in Scottish football and it is great to see. I can’t speak highly enough of them.

“They drove us on and that’s fantastic. Everyone talks about cliches of a 12th man, they were that tonight.”

Captain Lawrence Shankland started the fightback in the first half before Devlin – not renowned for his goal-scoring – sealed the deal with a double after the break.

McAvoy praised the Australian for his willingness to get forward from his deep-lying midfield role.

“I’m delighted for Cammy,” he said. “We like him. He’s done really well for us since we’ve come in. We’re delighted with him.

“The good thing is he’s getting forward and into the box, which is one of the things we have asked him to do. For me, he is a fantastic young player, a great squad member and we’re delighted with his contribution tonight.”

Cammy Devlin scored a stoppage-time winner as Hearts mounted a stirring fightback from two goals behind on aggregate to eliminate Rosenborg in a dramatic Europa Conference League third qualifying-round tie.

The Jambos, already trailing 2-1 from the first leg in Norway, came from behind in the second leg at a packed Tynecastle to win 3-1 on the night and secure a 4-3 triumph over the two legs, setting up a play-off with Greek side PAOK later this month.

The Norwegians looked to be in full control when an early goal from Isak Thorvaldsson put them 3-1 ahead on aggregate.

But the Jambos came roaring back to level the tie through goals from captain Lawrence Shankland and Devlin. The Australian midfielder then sparked bedlam with his second of the night in added time.

Hearts made three changes to the team that started Sunday’s goalless draw at home to Kilmarnock in the cinch Premiership as 19-year-old Aidan Denholm came in for his first competitive start along with Liam Boyce and Alex Cochrane, while Peter Haring, Alex Lowry and Kyosuke Tagawa dropped out.

A sold-out Tynecastle was at its raucous best as the teams emerged from the tunnel, but the Norwegians silenced the home support just six minutes in.

Thorvaldsson did the damage when he drilled the rebound over the line from the edge of the six-yard box after goalkeeper Zander Clark had done superbly to keep out the striker’s initial header from an Adrian Pereira free-kick.

Hearts almost equalised two minutes later, but Yutaro Oda smashed an angled shot off the far post after being played in to the box on the right by Shankland.

Clark had to make an impressive save in the 12th minute to prevent Rosenborg stretching their lead when he got down to his left to stop Emil Frederiksen finding the net with a low shot from eight yards out after the attacker had got himself clear inside the box.

It proved a pivotal moment as Hearts went straight up the pitch and scored.

Left-back Stephen Kingsley clipped a speculative through-ball in behind and Shankland managed to get himself clear before producing a lovely finish as he nonchalantly chipped the advancing Andre Hansen from the edge of the box.

The Jambos were suddenly full of confidence and they had a great chance to level the tie on aggregate in the 28th minute when Shankland ran on to an Oda pass down the right and saw his angled shot blocked by the legs of the keeper when he had Boyce in the middle begging for the ball to be squared.

Hearts continued in the ascendancy for the remainder of the first half.

In the 40th minute Kye Rowles headed over from Kingsley’s cross and seconds later Cochrane saw a firm low shot from the edge of the box saved by Hansen.

The hosts survived a scare four minutes after the restart when Nathaniel Atkinson had to hook the ball off the goal-line after his own attempt to clear a cross into the six-yard box ricocheted back off team-mate Rowles.

Seconds later Hearts went ahead on the night and levelled the tie on aggregate when Devlin followed up to smash a loose ball high into the net from a few yards out after Boyce’s powerful shot from 12 yards out was blocked by Hansen.

And Devlin had the final say in added time when his low deflected shot from the edge of the box found the net, sparking jubilant scenes inside Tynecastle.

Hibernian set up a glamour tie with Aston Villa after goals from Elie Youan and Martin Boyle earned a 2-2 draw against Luzern in Switzerland.

Hibs progressed 5-3 on aggregate to secure a Europa Conference League play-off against a Villa side captained by former Easter Road hero John McGinn, who was part of their 2016 Scottish Cup-winning team.

Youan fired Hibs into an early lead and set up Boyle to level the tie on the night in the 73rd minute, soon after Luzern had got within one goal on the aggregate score.

Villa are scheduled to visit Edinburgh for the first leg next Thursday.

Hibs had extended their first-leg lead in stoppage-time at Easter Road last week and they started where they finished as they attacked their hosts.

Boyle was impeded in the penalty box in the act of shooting but was penalised for catching his opponent and Josh Campbell shot straight at the home goalkeeper.

Hibs went three up on aggregate when Youan struck in the 10th minute. The wide player picked up a loose ball on the halfway line following a Luzern throw-in, ran to the edge of the box and hit a shot which hit a defender and looped over the goalkeeper.

Luzern hit back six minutes later after a switch of play put Hibs on the back foot. David Marshall made an excellent stop but the ball was cut back across goal for Jakub Kadak to finish from six yards.

Hibs continued to pose a threat and Dylan Vente headed over unchallenged from six yards.

Boyle soon raced clear after a brilliant piece of skill and went down just outside the box after Nicky Beloko grabbed his arm, but the referee played on.

Pius Dorn twice threatened for Luzern before the break, being denied by Marshall’s stop and then Vente’s headed clearance.

Hibs defended deep after the interval, with Dylan Levitt forced off injured in the 52nd minute after rolling his ankle while charging down a shot.

The home pressure paid off midway through the half when Kemal Ademi got goal-side of Paul Hanlon at a corner to convert a free header from five yards.

But Hibs did not allow their hosts to build any more momentum and killed off the home fans’ hopes in Lucerne when they netted on the counter-attack after the ball was launched forward.

Youan outmuscled defender Marco Burch, who responded by trying to grab the Hibs winger’s shirt. Burch bizarrely stopped looking for a free-kick of his own after getting Yoaun’s arm in his throat but the referee played on and Youan got to the byline.

Boyle had peeled off his marker and swept a left-footed shot under the goalkeeper after meeting Youan’s cutback from six yards out to send the Hibs fans wild.

Lee Johnson’s men survived a couple of scares in stoppage-time to set up an all-British tie.

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