Aston Villa 2-1 AZ Alkmaar | Ollie Watkins header damages AZ’s hopes of progressing from Group E in the Europa Conference League

Aston Villa claimed a 2-1 victory over AZ Alkmaar in a tense Europa Conference League clash on Thursday night. Having beaten AZ 4-1 on Dutch soil two weeks ago, Unai Emery’s side were the favourites heading into this clash. However, the majority of the match turned out to be very even as a much improved AZ side turned up to Villa Park.

Villa thought they had taken the lead just three minutes into the game through Clement Lenglet, but, a VAR check spotted an offside in the build-up. The first half was a frustrating one from an Aston Villa point of view as AZ Alkmaar registered the only shot on target and did well to keep the Villa attack quiet.

Just seven minutes after the break, AZ opened the scoring through Vangelis Pavlidis. The Greek striker netted his 14th goal of the campaign, weaving through the Villa defence before slotting the ball past Emiliano Martínez. Pavlidis is without a doubt one of the hottest strikers in Europe at the moment. The 24-year-old recently became just the second player in Eredivisie history to find the net in each of his first nine matches of a season, after the great Johan Cruyff.

The visitors’ lead lasted just six minutes as Villa defender Diego Carlos equalised from a corner kick. Unai Emery’s side continued to apply the pressure in the second half, registering eight goal attempts. Eventually, a beautiful ball from Douglas Luiz found Ollie Watkins who exquisitely headed the ball into the back of the net.

The victory leaves Aston Villa in second place behind group leaders Legia Warsaw. AZ remain rock bottom of the Group E table with games against Zrinjski and Legia still to come. Pascal Jansen’s side desperately need points. Villa take on Legia next in a battle for top spot in the group.

GBeNeFN Hugo Hargreaves

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