Aston Villa and the continental touch

Villa beat Legia Warsaw in the Uefa Conference League with Dave Woodhall watching events.

After a few almosts we got European football in tooth and claw at Villa Park when Legia Warsaw came to town. Well, they might have come to town, they even got as far as Witton Lane, but they didn’t get into the ground. before the game I was told by a reliable source that their supporters were refusing to enter because their allocation had been cut, later it was said that police had refused to allow them in anyway. Whatever happened beforehand, it made for a surreal atmosphere early on and plenty of empty seats-type singing from the rest of the ground.

There were no great surprises in the starting line-up, with Alex Moreno back and Jhon Duran starting in place of the hopefully not seriously injured Ollie Watkins. Despite the low-key atmosphere Villa got off to a flying start and after three minutes Youri Tielemans laid on a ball down the line for Moussa Diaby to run onto, beat his marker and stroke home from just inside the area. A goal up and Villa were looking good, with Duran also having a couple of chances in the early part of the game.

Unfortunately, one thing you can rely on over the years at Villa Park has been the team’s unerring ability to treat cup ties as though they only have to turn up to win and this was another example. Needing another goal to make sure of winning the group they sat back and allowed the visitors back into the game. Nineteen minutes gone and Boubacar Kamara, with no-one near him, gave the ball away needlessly and the resultant finish was almost worth applauding.

Still Villa didn’t wake up and the rest of the half was played at the same lacklustre pace, with the visitors closing down and looking dangerous. They could have gone ahead at the start of the second half but luckily a header hit the bar with Robin Olsen stranded. Villa finally bucked their ideas up and with almost an hour gone Douglas Luiz’s free kick was met by Alex Moreno for his first goal for the side, on his return from injury.

Jacob Ramsey got a few more minutes to help his rehabilitation, then Leon Bailey came on and was unlucky not to score from a most-unVillalike long ball from Olsen, hitting the bar with the ball rebounding down onto the goalline and away. That was the closest to the goal that would have won the group and Villa have now got to get a point against Mostar to avoid an extra round in this competition. It would have been good to play the final match without any pressure but Villa were strangely subdued throughout. The all-conquering side we see in the league doesn’t seem to have got the hang of playing in Europe yet and although Olsen had a decent enough game he still gives me palpitations every time the ball goes near him.

And perhaps the biggest lesson of the night was that learned by the Legia supporters – whatever you can do elsewhere you do not mess with West Midlands Police.