John McGinn is quickly turning his focus to the "astronomical achievement" of Champions League qualification after Aston Villa suffered heartbreak in the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League.

Villa were among the favourites to lift Europe's third-tier trophy but a 2-0 defeat at Olympiacos on Thursday consigned Unai Emery's men to a 6-2 aggregate loss over the two-leg tie.

It means Villa end what has largely been viewed as an excellent season without a trophy but they can still finish on a high by securing a top-four finish in the Premier League.

They lead fifth-place Tottenham by seven points with two games left in their domestic season, albeit Spurs do have a game in hand.

McGinn apologised to the travelling support in Piraeus but, speaking to TNT Sports after the game, said there is still an opportunity to finish the season on a high.

"We went into this competition as favourites and we handled that pressure throughout the competition, I think it’s been a huge learning curve for us," he said.

"It's not been a smooth journey, we got to the semi-finals down to the bare bones a bit.

"However, those of us who were out there over the two legs, we lost to who were the better team and I think the scoreline proves it."

"Our instant feeling is absolutely gutted. We all wanted to be back here for the final.

"Olympiacos gave it absolutely everything, played out of their skin in both legs, and overall the scoreline proves they were the better team.

"We'll reflect, there's a lot of things we could have done better, but over the season, of course, we can be proud of the journey.

"Obviously, we need to apologise to the supporters who have travelled here, they've travelled the whole campaign with us.

"We wanted to deliver a trophy to them, we all wanted it as players. We’'e all bitterly disappointed, but we need a big push in the last two games to try and get over the line for the Champions League, which would be an astronomical achievement.

"But here, the overriding feeling is disappointment, frustration and an opportunity missed. Congratulations to Olympiacos and we wish them all the best in the final."

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery knows his side have plenty of work to do in next week’s Europa Conference League quarter-final second leg in Lille.

Villa will travel to France with a 2-1 advantage thanks to first-leg goals from Ollie Watkins and John McGinn gave the on-looking Prince of Wales something to cheer about.

But Lille showed they are no pushovers and Bafode Diakite’s late header kept the tie alive after they had been repelled by an impressive performance from Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

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.

Emery, who celebrated his 1,000th game as a manager, said: “Difficult match, we are ready to play another 90 minutes, we played the first 90 minutes, we didn’t control the game like we wanted and defensively we were doing more work than we prepared for because we wanted to control the game with our positioning.

“With the respect we have got for them, they showed it.

“The result is tight, but more or less it was a fine for both teams. Now another 90 minutes, enjoy playing in Europe, enjoy playing a quarter-final.

“Be ready to play 90 minutes, even extra time, even a penalty shootout because now it is in this moment everything is difficult.”

Lille boss Paulo Fonseca, who almost took over at Newcastle and Tottenham in the last few years, felt Watkins’ goal should have been disallowed for a foul by Morgan Rogers on Ismally.

“I don’t understand what is going on, it was a foul on the first goal,” he said.

“I understand it is difficult for the referee with VAR it is just incredible they miss these things. It’s not good what is going on in football, the referees must look at what is going on in the moment.

“A lot of matches, it is not football, it is blocking like in basketball. The first goal was a clear foul, a clear block. Being physical is one thing, fouling is another.”

However, after the way they created chances at Villa Park, Fonseca knows the tie is very much alive.

“We created the opportunity to get a better result,” he added. “I’m satisfied with the courage of my players but at the end of the day, we’ve lost.

“I know that it’s difficult match, they’ve got great players, a great coach and a lot of experience so they have certain advantages but I must continue to believe it’s possible.”

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.

Aston Villa skipper John McGinn says Sunday’s crunch Premier League meeting with Tottenham is “the most important game in the club’s recent history”.

Villa welcome Spurs to Villa Park for a monumental battle in the race for top four and guaranteed Champions League football last season.

Victory for Unai Emery’s men would tighten their grip on fourth place by giving them an eight-point lead over Spurs, but defeat would see the London side cut the gap to two points with a game in hand.

With Villa never having qualified for the Champions League before, McGinn knows the importance of the match.

“Everyone knows how important the game is,” the Scot said. “It’s probably, in a league fixture, the most important game in the club’s recent history.

“So the players are aware of that. If I feel over the next couple of days that the boys are not aware, I’ll remind them.

“The supporters will be right up for it and we need to remember that so will Tottenham. We got away with one down at the Tottenham stadium.

“They’re a really good team who we’ll fully respect. But we know at Villa Park we’re a force and hopefully we can get three points.”

Villa won the European Cup in 1982 but they have never played in the modern Champions League.

McGinn admits his side are talking about the possibility of qualifying and knows they have it in their own hands.

“We speak about it, we are ambitious,” McGinn added.

“Obviously we want to achieve something that the club haven’t achieved in a long, long time. Our focus from last year was to try to improve and be competitive in this competition which we’ve done so far.

“Try to improve, get Europa League and then maybe try and get the Champions League. We know it’s in our hands at the moment and we’ve got a really exciting run of games.

“There’s a lot of us that have been through the journey with the club so we’ve experienced the lows and the highs are hopefully still to come.”

Aston Villa survived a testing assignment at Ajax as they drew 0-0 in the first leg of the Europa Conference League last-16 in Amsterdam.

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 goalless.

They were reliant on goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to produce an important save 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 Tristian Gooijer following for the hosts moments later.

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

With a crunch game in the race for the Premier League top four against Tottenham to come on Sunday, Emery made several changes to his side, with John McGinn and Leon Bailey among those dropping out.

One of the replacements, Moussa Diaby, almost made an early impact when he created space for himself only to shoot straight at Ajax goalkeeper Diant Ramaj.

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 Dutch Eredivisie.

But they gave the Villa the run around in a first half where Emery’s men were pegged back and lucky to survive.

Henderson gave them a scare on the half-hour when he whipped a 25-yard free-kick over Martinez’s crossbar before the home side’s big chance six minutes later.

Jorrel Hato brought the ball out of defence and played in Brian Brobbey with a defence-splitting pass, but the Netherlands international shot into the side-netting as he closed in on goal.

Villa did not improve much after the break and brought on McGinn and Bailey to try and get control of the game.

But they were reliant on Martinez to keep them level in the 68th minute as the World Cup winner produced a smart stop to keep out Kenneth Taylor’s effort from Borna Sosa’s cut back.

Villa’s task looked like getting harder after Konsa had to walk for a second yellow card when it looked like he was being fouled.

But Gooijer picked up his second booking moments later and Villa were able to see the game out unscathed.

Ollie Watkins’ double helped Aston Villa to a 2-1 victory over a spirited Fulham at Craven Cottage.

The striker took his Premier League tally to 12 for the season and was the difference maker for Unai Emery’s men in west London.

Fulham’s Rodrigo Muniz scored his fourth in three games but Villa dug in during the second half to claim all three points.

Villa fired an early warning shot when Watkins’ goal was chalked off for offside. John McGinn slipped the attacker through but the linesman deemed him to have moved too soon as Fulham avoided an early scare.

Muniz started over illness-stricken Armando Broja up front and the Brazilian looked to continue his rich vein of form, getting on the end of Andreas Pereira’s through ball before firing his effort over the bar.

After Fulham had a goal of their own ruled offside from a set-piece, Villa punished a series of errors and took the lead.

The usually reliable Antonee Robinson had a moment to forget when his throw-in put Willian under immense pressure at the back before Watkins powered the winger off the ball, marauding into the box and drilling his effort past Bernd Leno into the left-hand corner.

Fulham’s sloppiness continued and Leon Bailey looked to inflict more misery on Robinson. The pacey Jamaica international turned the left-back inside out with intricate skill before his curved strike cannoned off the bar, much to the relief of Marco Silva’s men.

The visitors turned the screw and doubled their lead through the clinical Watkins.

Villa’s number 11 caught Issa Diop napping, finding a gap to get on the end of Youri Tielemans’ pass before he picked his head up, paused and blasted his effort into his favourite left-hand post to claim a brace.

But after 63 minutes Fulham scored on the break to blow the game wide open.

Robinson redeemed a poor a first half with a golden delivery from the left into the six-yard box, finding Muniz who poked the ball past Emiliano Martinez to give the Cottagers hope.

Silva turned to the bench in the form of Alex Iwobi and Adama Traore.

Iwobi, fresh from his Africa Cup of Nations campaign with Nigeria, forced Martinez into action with a driven shot across goal before Traore ghosted Alex Moreno and tested the Villa defence with a dangerous cross.

Traore went one-on-on during five added minutes but was denied by Martinez.

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery was pleased with how his side continued to play “seriously” during their 5-0 romp at Sheffield United.

Villa got their top-four ambitions back on track in style as they put the hapless Blades to the sword in a scintillating opening half-hour where they went 4-0 up thanks to goals from John McGinn, Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey and Youri Tielemans.

Alex Moreno made it five a minute after the break to briefly raise hopes of going for the record Premier League win before Villa took their foot off the gas.

Emery said: “We had control of the game and we were clinical. We got confidence quickly and we were feeling comfortable.

“We finished the first half with a very good result and we tried to be respectful of them firstly and tried to play seriously and practise playing the match thinking of things we needed to improve.

“The most important thing is to win and try to be respectful of the opponent and play seriously in every minute we are facing the match.

“We were scoring goals and we tried to stop them as well, as we did before we scored four goals in the first half.

“In the last moment we conceded one goal before VAR, before we conceded two very good chances for them. I want to be demanding in that moment to play seriously and respect them.

“When you win like that overall we have to be happy but in the next matches we are not always going to be comfortable like that and we have to be serious in our gameplan and be responsible.”

It was another embarrassing day for Sheffield United, just four months after they were beaten 8-0 by Newcastle at Bramall Lane.

Boss Chris Wilder will surely know his side will be playing in the Championship next season as they have taken just 10 points from 23 games and are the same number away from safety.

He said: “No excuses, we were architects of our downfall in terms of the manner of the goals and you’re 4-0 down after half an hour. I am not going to apologise for it but it becomes damage limitation.

“I understand supporters will want to see us get after the opposition in that case but we’ve already had one of those evenings before.

“I didn’t see it coming, I thought I picked the right team, an athletic team, a front-footed team. We were second best all afternoon. As manager I have to stand on the touchline and accept everything that comes my way and it is well and truly deserved.

“The players are on the floor, they are not doing cartwheels in there. It’s a difficult one to take. We are all hurting, a reaction is needed, it is going to be a long week for us. I have to put it right.

“We took a big step backwards today, I can’t hide away from that. That is something that is damaging and something we have to get over.”

Aston Villa returned to winning ways in style as they put Sheffield United to the sword with four goals in the opening 30 minutes in a 5-0 romp at Bramall Lane.

Villa’s Premier League top-four hopes had faltered after winning just one of their last five matches but Unai Emery’s men put that right to move above Tottenham and back into fourth.

Goals from John McGinn, Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey and Youri Tielemans before the half-hour put them in dreamland and Alex Moreno’s second-half goal made it a day to remember for Villa, who registered their biggest Premier League away win since 2004.

At one point they would have had history in their sights as they had more than 45 minutes to try and find four more goals which would have equalled the record victory in the Premier League era, but they took their foot off the gas.

Still, it was bad enough for Sheffield United on another embarrassing day for the club, just four months after they were beaten 8-0 by Newcastle at Bramall Lane.

Boss Chris Wilder will surely know his side will be playing in the Championship next season as they have taken just 10 points from 23 games and are the same number away from safety.

Villa will hope to use this as a springboard for the rest of the campaign as they eye Champions League qualification for the first time.

It was the vision of Douglas Luiz that enabled them to take a two-goal lead within 16 minutes.

First, the midfielder sliced open Sheffield United’s defence with a fine pass which set Watkins through on goal. The England international lifted the ball over the on-rushing Wes Foderingham and onto the post, with McGinn tucking the rebound into an empty net.

Luiz’s assist for the second goal four minutes later was even more eye-catching as he again played in Watkins with an outrageous pass with the outside of his boot and this time the striker found the bottom corner.

It was 3-0 four minutes later with another goal of quality as Bailey cut inside and whipped a brilliant left-footed strike into the top corner.

A section of the home fans were fearing a repeat of that Newcastle nightmare and left the ground and even more headed for the exit 10 minutes later when Tielemans made it 4-0 with another picturebook goal.

The Belgian found acres of space on the edge of the area from a corner, took a touch and then rifled in off the underside of the crossbar to complete a dream half-hour.

Villa needed 83 seconds of the second half to make it five, as some slapdash defending from Auston Trusty allowed Watkins to tee up Moreno to volley home from close range.

United were at least able to stem the tide and threatened to get on the scoresheet but Emiliano Martinez saved from Anel Ahmedhodzic and Jack Robinson.

Their misery was complete late on in the game when Vini Souza poked home from a set-piece but VAR ruled it out for offside.

Mauricio Pochettino praised Emiliano Martinez after the Aston Villa goalkeeper produced a string of saves to deny his Chelsea side in their goalless FA Cup fourth-round meeting at Stamford Bridge.

Villa are five places and 12 points ahead of Chelsea in the Premier League table but there was little to separate them here, although the hosts will reflect on chances missed in the first half by Noni Madueke and Cole Palmer as a shot at settling the tie slipped away.

Martinez was the decisive actor on both occasions, spreading himself well and blocking in one-on-one situations.

John McGinn had Villa’s best opportunities, first when his clipped effort sailed inches over the bar on the stroke of half-time, then again when he stole in at the near post to meet Nicolo Zaniolo’s cross late on but guided it wide under pressure from Thiago Silva.

It is now three consecutive home games against Villa in which Chelsea have failed to score, as they struggled to capitalise on the momentum of Tuesday’s 6-1 Carabao Cup win over Middlesbrough that set up a final showdown against Liverpool at Wembley next month.

“This type of games are very even,” said Pochettino. “When you face a team like Aston Villa, always it’s difficult. We didn’t score but we created chances. I trust and believe in my players playing this way, we are going to score.

“We came from Tuesday, we scored six so today should be good. But their keeper is an amazing keeper, he’s really good. Sometimes you need some luck to score.”

Chelsea lost defender Levi Colwill to injury during the warm-up, with 20-year-old academy graduate Alfie Gilchrist drafted into the starting XI.

Pochettino confirmed Colwill’s injury is not serious and emphasised his belief in Gilchrist as a capable stand-in.

“It’s not so bad, it’s some small issue that maybe he didn’t feel comfortable,” he said. “We knew before we might not start with him. We hope he will train tomorrow.

“The most difficult thing (for young players) is to manage the stress. (Gilchrist) thought he wasn’t going to play. Sometimes with the young guys, you give the starting XI and they think too much, maybe they can’t sleep. The stress can affect them. But he got half an hour (to prepare), no time to think too much.

“The young players need time to be calm and relaxed, not to spend too much energy thinking on the game. But he was really good. He’s going to grow and be more mature in future.

“He’s showing, and we are giving the opportunity for him to build his career. It’s important for all of the academy players have ability to show they can cope with the pressure of playing for Chelsea. We’ll see if he can reach the level we expect.”

Villa boss Unai Emery reflected on a game in which side impressed with their competitive approach despite the stalemate.

“I have to accept this draw and that we will now play at home and be motivated with our supporters,” he said.

“We are going to be at Villa Park trying to enjoy this, because we showed tonight that we are competitive and we can be contenders as well for this competition.”

Chelsea were held to a lively goalless draw by Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge as both sides squandered opportunities to settle their FA Cup fourth-round tie.

Mauricio Pochettino’s team had scored six in their previous outing, dispatching Middlesbrough to reach next month’s Carabao Cup final, but found Unai Emery’s Premier League high-flyers a more obdurate hurdle as a combined 23 shots from both sides failed to yield a winner.

John McGinn spurned Villa’s best chances in either half, while Emiliano Martinez twice denied Chelsea as Noni Madueke and Cole Palmer found themselves frustrated.

It was a theme of the night in west London as a replay at Villa Park beckoned.

Villa should have led after 10 minutes, Youri Tielemans with a free header from six yards out that he thumped downwards into the ground, the pace taken off the ball allowing Djordje Petrovic to save.

Visiting supporters were on their feet when Douglas Luiz tapped in from almost on the goal line, but their delight was curtailed after VAR determined the midfielder had handled as the ball deflected to him off Alfie Gilchrist.

Palmer fed Madueke who might have done better with his low finish, aimed towards the corner but instead fired against Martinez.

Palmer was then the recipient of a ludicrous gift from Clement Lenglet, the defender’s square ball easily cut out by the former Manchester City man who again found only the goalkeeper with his shot.

Madueke was next to go close, he knocked an effort from close range against the legs of Martinez after Raheem Sterling had dazzled Matty Cash on the right and fed Palmer who crossed.

With virtually the final act of the first period, Moussa Diaby raced down the right and centred for McGinn, who with a sweep of his right boot hit a curling strike that cleared the crossbar by inches.

Villa ended a run of eight straight FA Cup defeats with their third-round victory at Middlesbrough but here they were made to weather a first half in which Chelsea had the better of the chances, though as so often this campaign Pochettino’s side lacked cutting edge in front of goal.

Palmer tried to benefit from another Villa howler at the back midway through the second half.

Martinez hit a clearance with insufficient height that struck Chelsea’s top scorer, who seemed in too much of a hurry to execute the finish. Trying to catch out the backtracking goalkeeper, he missed his kick entirely, as Emery breathed a sigh of relief.

Thiago Silva flung his head at a goal-bound Luiz effort as the game started to become stretched.

Ollie Watkins took a touch and hit a fizzing drive that Petrovic beat away, then the goalkeeper made the save of the match diving low with a stunning reach to claw Cash’s left-footed piledriver from the foot of the post.

McGinn had the chance to settle it and dodge a replay four minutes from time, arriving at the near post to meet Nicolo Zaniolo’s cross at the near post. However, he got too much of a glance on the ball under pressure from Silva, as the chance and the game fizzled out.

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery hailed his side’s mentality as they beat Middlesbrough 1-0 in their third-round FA Cup clash at the Riverside.

The Premier League high-flyers reached the fourth round thanks to Matty Cash’s deflected winner in the 87th minute.

Villa had chances in the first half from Jhon Duran and Leander Dendoncker before threatening in the first 15 minutes of the second half as John McGinn, Ezri Konsa and Alex Moreno all came close from a succession of corners.

Cash eventually sent them through to the next round from a short corner in the final stages and Emery praised the maturity in his team to push for the winner.

“We played big passions, being mature, I think we are growing up our mentality in matches like that,” Emery said.

“At the beginning we were favourite to win, but difficult to face each match.

“They prepared and tactically they played a very good match and even when they were keeping more possession on the transition they threatened us.

“We were always in control of the game and even the 15 minute, 20 minutes in the second half they were in that moment in control of the game better than us, after we had the three chances in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

“We were being passionate and trying to keep in our mind our gameplan and after that moment we reacted again, we pushed in the last minute because we took two or three chances and we scored one of them.”

Villa were dumped out of the FA Cup by Stevenage in the third round last season, and Emery revealed his side had spoken about their history of the competition ahead of the Boro clash.

“We were speaking before the match about the FA Cup, a very historic cup competition, maybe the best cup competition in the world,” Emery added.

“We’re speaking about our players, how much they were successful in this competition – not a lot! Only Emiliano (Martinez) and Calum Chambers won with Arsenal.

“A long time Aston Villa was successful in this competition with seven titles.

“Of course we are here trying to do another step ahead in this club, trying to play facing different competition and trying to be contending to get something.”

Carabao Cup semi-finalists Middlesbrough missed out on another cup run, but still had their opportunities in the game as Alex Bangura created some good chances and Morgan Rogers tested Martinez.

Cash’s late strike came as a cruel blow to Michael Carrick’s side, who had defended well throughout, but the Boro boss was “so proud” of their performance.

He said: “I thought the whole game, to be honest, was good. Really happy with them at half-time.

“They had a little bit more of the game in some ways second half, but I thought in general in the circumstances against the team we were playing against, I thought they were fantastic, the lads, I’m so proud of them.

“Tactically they were spot on in terms of their discipline, concentration, we played some good football at times to play that pressure and we probably had more opportunities to create chances than actually the chances themselves but we definitely looked dangerous enough in the game.

“Disappointed not to get anything from it really.”

Erik ten Hag hopes the return of key players in the coming weeks can help Manchester United deliver consistency after Tuesday’s stunning come-from-behind 3-2 win over Aston Villa promised to kick-start a new era at Old Trafford.

All the familiar problems that had seen Ten Hag’s side go four games without a win or a goal were on show in a poor first half as Villa were too easily able to score twice in the space of six minutes through John McGinn’s unchallenged free-kick and an unmarked Leander Dendoncker.

But United rallied in the second half with Alejandro Garnacho scoring twice before Rasmus Hojlund’s long-awaited first Premier League goal delivered a victory which, for all their problems, lifted United up to sixth two days after news of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s forthcoming investment was confirmed.

It was only United’s second win in seven games during December, but they have been without a list of players including Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro, Mason Mount and Tyrell Malacia, all due back in January along with Victor Lindelof, and Ten Hag is looking forward to their return.

“So often we have to change the team,” he said. “You don’t get the routines. We know football is about solid performance and consistency and we know we have to make a step there, but I’m sure when we have more players available in the key positions we will get more consistency.”

Marcus Rashford made his first start since December 2, having initially lost his place to the in-form Garnacho before illness delayed his return. The England forward looked bright, forcing saves from Emi Martinez before setting up the first of Garnacho’s goals.

“I think he played very good,” Ten Hag said. “He was ill and also he had one or two games where we preferred to play Garnacho on the left side but he deserved it. There is internal competition.

“(On Tuesday) we played Alejandro on the right, that can be a solution, it can be fluid, but Rashford can also play on the right side.”

INEOS director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford was watching from the director’s box as Ratcliffe prepares to take control of footballing operations under the terms of his investment, and the win eased some of the growing pressure on Ten Hag.

Ratcliffe’s investment remains subject to Premier League ratification, but documents published by the New York Stock Exchange show INEOS’ influence will be felt immediately.

United must consult INEOS over any major sporting decision made during the ratification process, including player signings or if they wanted to dismiss figures including Ten Hag or director of football John Murtough.

Ratification is expected to take four to six weeks, a period covering most or all of the January transfer window.

United had trudged off to the sound of boos at half-time but the full-time whistle was greeted with a huge roar after a stirring second-half performance.

There were very different emotions for Villa, who were on course to end the night level on points with leaders Liverpool before it all unravelled in the second half.

Unai Emery’s side blew the chance to be top at Christmas when they were held by lowly Sheffield United on Friday, and this was another set-back as they try to cling to the momentum they have built in a superb first half of the campaign.

“Move on, be demanding,” Emery said. “I told the players that the first part of the season was fantastic but I want more. If they want more we have to work hard to get it.

“My mentality now is to focus on Saturday (at home to Burnley) and prepare the match as well as possible. We want to be better tomorrow than today.”

Erik ten Hag expects Rasmus Hojlund to keep scoring after Manchester United’s £72million man finally broke his Premier League duck to seal a stunning 3-2 comeback win over Aston Villa.

United looked destined for a 14th defeat of the season in all competitions when Aston Villa scored twice in the space of six first-half minutes through John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker to take a 2-0 lead in at half-time as boos rang around Old Trafford at the break.

But with INEOS director of sport Sir Dave Brailsford watching on after Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s minority stake-holding was confirmed, United rallied in the second half with Alejandro Garnacho scoring twice before Hojlund won it in the 82nd minute.

Although the summer signing from Atalanta finished as United’s top-scorer in their short-lived Champions League campaign, he had failed to find the net in 16 matches in domestic competition, but made no mistake when McGinn could only flick the ball into his path eight minutes from time.

“Of course I’ve had several talks with him and every time I’ve pointed out he has scored for Denmark a lot, he has scored in the Champions League, he has demonstrated his ability so you can do it, believe,” Ten Hag said of the 20-year-old Dane.

“I’m sure now he has the first goal he will score more…

“When a striker doesn’t score it’s a problem but he has a strong character, he is so solid, determined. He has a big personality. I think this is what a striker needs. When you keep investing, the goals will come.”

Brailsford’s presence came two days after Ratcliffe’s purchase of a 25 per cent stake in the club – which will come with control of footballing operations – was announced subject to ratification by the Premier League.

The former British Cycling boss would have been worried by how easily Villa scored their goals. McGinn’s free-kick from wide bounced through a crowded box before Dendoncker was left almost unmarked to flick home from a corner.

But asked if Brailsford had seen both the best and worst of his United side, Ten Hag said: “It wasn’t the worst. I think already in the first half we played solidly. It was a little bit slopping to give two goals away but after we changed the pressing slightly and we kept going.

“Already we created chances in the first half, we kept believing in ourselves and that is what I demand. I said at half-time, keep believing and we will win this game.”

Rasmus Hojlund claimed to be the “happiest man alive” after breaking his Premier League duck to earn Manchester United a stunning 3-2 comeback win over Aston Villa.

Under-fire striker Hojlund, who cost an initial £64million from Atalanta in the summer, grabbed the 82nd-minute winner on his 15th top-flight appearance.

Villa were on course to move level on points with Liverpool at the top of the table following first-half finishes from John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker before Alejandro Garnacho’s double brought the hosts level.

Hojlund’s decisive strike, which followed five goals in the Champions League, further eased the pressure on manager Erik ten Hag as United celebrated victory in their first match since Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s investment in the club was confirmed.

“It’s been a while but I’m happy,” the 20-year-old Denmark international told Amazon Prime.

“I’m the happiest man alive right now – you can see in the celebrations as well. We believe until the end and we showed a lot of character again today.”

United had failed to score in their previous four matches in all competitions and looked set to see their winless run stretch to five matches before the dramatic turnaround.

Hojlund hopes to increase his tally in the league after ending his lengthy wait to hit the net.

“I’ve scored a couple in the Champions League but of course it’s been a while in the Premier League,” he said.

“I’m happy to get the first one and now hopefully I can keep going.”

The Stretford End sang the names of both of United’s goal scorers in the closing stages of the match and at full-time.

Argentina forward Garnacho, who also had a goal disallowed for offside, believes the performance has answered some of the critics.

“I’m very happy – happy for Rasmus also,” said the 19-year-old. “Too many people talk about the strikers in Manchester United, (saying) we never score goals.

“It’s one of the best days of my life.”

United rose to sixth place courtesy of the win, while Villa remain third after blowing a major opportunity.

Manager Ten Hag said: “I’m so happy that the strikers scored – that is what we needed.

“I know we are capable of it, they are good at finishing.

“(Marcus) Rashford, Garnacho and Hojlund, they’re all good finishers and we have more. Also, they have to show it every game.”

The Dutchman added: “I said before the game, we are competitive with Arsenal, we are competitive with Liverpool. If we play our best, we can beat anyone, so believe in that.

“Even when you’re 2-0 down it doesn’t matter; keep going, show the character and today I think we showed it.

“We have the personalities to do it and today was a very good team performance.”

Rasmus Hojlund broke his Premier League duck as Manchester United celebrated Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s investment in the club by battling back from two goals down to beat Aston Villa 3-2.

Villa were on course to move level on points with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table following first-half goals from John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker at Old Trafford.

But the hosts levelled thanks to Alejandro Garnacho’s double before 20-year-old Hojlund, who cost an initial £64million from Atalanta in the summer, stole the headlines with an 82nd-minute winner on his 15th top-flight appearance.

The rousing comeback victory came two days after Ratcliffe agreed to buy a 25 per cent stake in United and ended a four-match winless run without scoring to ease mounting pressure on manager Erik ten Hag.

Ten Hag’s side rise to sixth, while Villa remain third after blowing a major opportunity.

Earlier on Boxing Day, Liverpool climbed to the summit after Darwin Nunez ended his goal drought in a 2-0 success at second-bottom Burnley.

Nunez fired Jurgen Klopp’s men into a sixth-minute lead at Turf Moor with his first strike in 13 matches in all competitions before substitute Diogo Jota sealed victory late on with his 50th goal for the club.

Mohamed Salah hit the crossbar and Harvey Elliott saw his second-half strike ruled out for offside with the score still 1-0, while Jacob Bruun Larsen almost snatched an equaliser for the Clarets.

Victory for the Reds lifted them two points above Arsenal, who host West Ham on Thursday, while lowly Burnley are five points from safety following a 14th defeat of the season.

Chris Wood retuned to haunt Newcastle with a stunning hat-trick as Nottingham Forest handed new boss Nuno Espirito Santo the first Premier League victory of his reign.

Wood, who joined Forest from the Magpies in January, produced two fine second-half finishes to secure a 3-1 comeback success at St James’ Park.

Newcastle went ahead through Alexander Isak’s 23rd-minute penalty but slipped to a sixth defeat in seven games in all competitions after Wood tapped home Anthony Elanga’s cross just before the break and went on to complete his treble in style.

Forest remain two points above the relegation zone after 18th-placed Luton pulled off a 3-2 success at bottom club Sheffield United thanks to two late own goals.

Blades pair Jack Robinson and Anis Ben Slimane each turned the ball into their own goal during the final 14 minutes of a chaotic clash at Bramall Lane.

Chris Wilder’s hosts had looked set for a vital three points after second-half strikes from Oli McBurnie and Anel Ahmedhodzic overturned Alfie Doughty’s 17th-minute opener.

In-form Bournemouth continued their remarkable resurgence by moving into the top half of the table thanks to a thumping 3-0 victory over Fulham.

Justin Kluivert put the Cherries ahead just before half-time at Vitality Stadium before Dominic Solanke’s eighth goal in seven games – a penalty after Joao Palhinha brought down Antoine Semenyo – doubled the lead.

Substitute Luis Sinisterra sealed an emphatic success late on as Andoni Iraola’s hosts made it 19 points from the last 21 available.

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