Just a point in their final UEFA Europa Conference League group stage outing would see Aston Villa top Group E of Europe’s tertiary competition, sealing progression to the round-of-sixteen regardless of the result in the concurrent Legia Warszawa v AZ Alkmaar fixture.
ZRI: Maric; Memija, Radic, Jakovljevic, Corluka; Zlomislic, Canadjija; Cuze, Ivanic, Malekinusic; Bilbija
AVL: Marschall; Moreno, Torres, Konsa, Cash; Luiz, Dendoncker, Zaniolo, Diaby; Ramsey, Durán
Unai Emery made a staggering eight changes to his starting eleven as his side travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday, where they’d face a side that have scored just once in the UEFA Europa Conference League since their opening day victory against AZ Alkmaar.
The Spaniard’s side were unable to make their first-half possession count, squandering two golden opportunities to take the lead before the break – but when John McGinn entered the fray in the second half, Villa looked to be a regalvanised side.
It was his cross from the left flank that found Nicolo Zaniolo just after the hour mark, allowing the Italian to place a composed effort past Maric from six yards out.Embed from Getty Images
Villa looked far from assured after taking the lead though, and a poor clearance from debutant Filip Marschall almost gifted Aldin Hrvanovic an opportunity to restore parity – though he couldn’t find the back of the net from close range.
But Zrinjski Mostar would be rewarded for their valiant efforts in the 87th minute, with Matija Malekinusic seeing his curling effort loop over Marschall as the Bosnian side forced Villa to settle for a draw.
Nonetheless, Unai Emery’s Aston Villa progress as the winners of their group – meaning they’ll skip the two-legged playoffs against a relegated side from the UEFA Europa League. Zrinjski Mostar finish bottom of the same group.