Aston Villa and bearing Greeks gifts

Dave Woodhall sees Villa go out of the Uefa Conference League after losing to Olympiacos.

Ah well, it was good while it lasted. Villa’s hopes of marking a return to Europe with glorious success ended in a 2-0 defeat to Olympiacos which meant a 6-2 aggregate score. In truth, the tie was lost a long time before the final whistle in Athens. In probablity it was lost before the end of the match at Villa Park, in those five minutes of madness after Villa had pulled back a two-goal defecit only to go a further two goals behind almost immediately afterwards.

Villa travelled to Piraeus with plenty of supporters and just as much hope. The reality of the situation, though, became only too real when the team was announced. Emiliano Martinez was back but that was all. The rumours that Youri Tielemans had a chance of playing were proved to be false and a look at the bench confirmed the enormity of the task. You can’t go into a European semi-final with players only the most hardened watcher of the under-21s wopuld recognise, even without the small matter of a highly questionable referee in charge.

To be honest the ref was the least of Villa’s worries. If Unai Emery had put a team out like this in normal corcumstances he’d have been accused of throwing the tie. The one he picked on Thursday evening passed without much comment, because there was hardly anyone else fit to play.

You could question the idea of Ezri Konsa at right-back and Matty Cash pushed up because it hardly ever works. You could just as easily say if not Cash, then who? The match kicked off and Villa seemed to be putting in the effort to make a go of it, then with their first counter-attack the same player who caused us such a problem last week scored again, and that was the match over. Villa had a lot of the play for the next hour and a bit without ever really threatening. Jhon Duran came on for Moussa Diaby and Tim Iroegbunam replaced Diego Carlos but that was about all Emery could do in terms of potential game-changers. It didn’t work and a second Olympiacos goal killed the game off.

The great irony of the scoreline is that you could make a case for Villa having been the better side over the two legs. There was definitely a time in the fist game where a few more goals looked likely but Douglas Luiz’s rush of blood and a deflection saw to that. Equally, they had most of the possession in the return but did nothing with it.

And so as one door closes another one remains wide open. Villa have somehow got to recover from this disappointment and put in one decent performance in the final two games. Liverpool at home will be a tall oder, although perhaps ironically the fuss surrounding Jurgen Klopp might work in our favour, taking the pressure away from players who if they were racehorses would be protected by the RSPCA. Just one more performance.