Aston Villa 4-0 (4-0 agg) Ajax: Hosts see off Ajax to qualify for UEFA Europa Conference League quarterfinals

With all to play at Villa Park after a goalless draw a week ago, Unai Emery was forced into a change in the heart of the hosts’ defence as Diego Carlos replaced the suspended Erzi Konsa – while club captain John McGinn and Leon Bailey also returned to the Aston Villa starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Ajax replaced Tristan Gooijer – following his red card in Amsterdam – with Josip Šutalo as the Godenzonen went in search of their first win in England since success over Tottenham Hotspur in April 2019.

AVL: Martínez; Cash, Torres, Carlos, Moreno; Luiz, McGinn, Rogers, Diaby; Bailey, Watkins

AJA: Ramaj; Šutalo, Hato, Kaplan; Rensch, Sosa, Henderson, Mannsverk; Kristian Hlynsson, Taylor, Brobbey

On the losing side in just one of their last seven home European matches, Emery’s side began on the attacking foot as Diant Ramaj remained smartly aware of his surroundings, as he was confident enough to let Leon Bailey’s fearsome effort fly narrowly wide of the right-hand post. However, the Ajax goalkeeper was helpless to prevent their hosts from deservingly breaking the deadlock in the 25th minute as Ollie Watkins authoritatively headed Douglas Luiz’s corner into the far corner of the net.

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Despite appearing to have somewhat recovered from an injury scare – after taking a heavy knock to his knee cap while trying to charge down an earlier outgoing goal kick – Watkins worryingly eventually succumbed to his injury as he was replaced by the returning Jhon Durán. Morgan Rogers would then fire a warning shot of a maiden goal for his new club since his move from Middlesbrough marginally over the crossbar, as at the other end at Villa Park, only Matty Cash’s last-minute goal line clearance denied Ajax an equaliser, and Brian Brobbey his first goal in this season’s UEFA Europa Conference League.

On course for a first appearance in the quarterfinals of a UEFA competition since 1998, Villa should have put the game to bed in the 56th minute but Durán disappointingly fired his one-on-one effort wide of the mark. However, the Columbian international’s bushes were spared not long after, as a mistimed pass out of defence allowed Bailey to keep Jorrel Hato guessing with some silky footwork before superbly slotting the ball beyond Ramaj.

If Bailey’s goal had not killed off Ajax’s hopes of mounting a miraculous comeback, Sivert Mannsverk’s second yellow card in the 66th minute certainly did, as the midfielder needlessly pulled back Durán leaving referee Orel Grinfeld with no choice but to send Norwegian for an early shower.

Things got even worse for the Dutch giants – with progression now out of the question – as the goal-hungry Durán finally got his name on the scoresheet with a fearsomely-struck strike that bounced off the underside of the crossbar before being confirmed by the eagle-eye of VAR to have made its way over the line.

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Moussa Diaby added a fourth of the evening with nine minutes left of regular time with a fierce finish, as another victory under the European lights at Villa Park leaves the Villains needing not long to find out their last eight opponents – with the draw for the next round due to be made tomorrow. Meanwhile, Ajax will turn attention back to domestic matters in the Eredivisie in their ongoing mission to reappear on the European stage next season.