John McGinn’s late goal gives Villa an important victory

By Sports Desk October 05, 2023 338

John McGinn’s last-gasp winner saved Aston Villa from embarrassment as they laboured to an uninspiring 1-0 victory against Zrinjski Mostar.

The captain netted in the fourth minute of added time to break battling Mostar hearts.

It looks like Villa’s Europa Conference League campaign would continue to stutter until then after the hosts were left frustrated by their organised and combative opponents, who refused to buckle until stoppage time.

Despite dominating, Villa struggled to break Mostar down and had a penalty call reversed in the second half.

Referee Urs Schnyder changed his decision to award a spot-kick for handball after replays showed Ollie Watkins’ header hit Slobodan Jakovljevic in the face.

Nemanja Bilbija wasted the visitors’ best opening in the first half as the Bosnian champions fell just short in the Group E clash.

Ezri Konsa, unfortunate to be left out of the latest England squad, confessed to having never heard of the visitors. He would not have been the only one.

Boss Krunoslav Rendulic called it the biggest game in the visitors’ history and the club which gave a 17-year-old Luka Modric his professional debut were a nuisance from the start.

Antonio Ivancic briefly threatened first, lobbing the ball over Emi Martinez only to lack support, before the goalkeeper needed to parry Bilbija’s shot after Marijo Cuze’s low cross.

In between, Nicolo Zaniolo twice threatened but it was a chance Mostar should have taken. They had, at least, sapped the energy from Villa Park in the opening 20 minutes and the hosts’ frustrations were underlined when McGinn was booked for an obvious dive.

As a team Villa are still learning to adapt to European football and the opening 3-2 defeat at Legia Warsaw did little to justify their favourites tag in the competition. In the first half at Villa Park, there were even fewer hints.

Mostar fought back from 3-0 down to beat AZ Alkmaar 4-3 last month and were comfortable, Zaniolo’s overhead kick allowing goalkeeper Marko Maric to offer a save for the cameras but there was little else to trouble them.

Unai Emery had seen enough and summoned Watkins, Douglas Luiz and Matty Cash from the bench and their arrival lifted Villa.

Watkins conjured a chance for Diego Carlos, only for the defender to get his header all wrong and the striker thought he had earned a penalty eight minutes into the second half.

Cash’s cross was met by Watkins, whose header cannoned into the face of Jakovljevic – with official Schnyder giving a spot-kick for handball.

It was clear, though, the ball hit the defender in the face and once Schnyder had checked his monitor he correctly overturned the decision.

It did finally light a fire under Villa and Maric saved Diego Costa’s header as
the hosts camped in Mostar’s half for the rest of the game.

Youri Tielemans and Zaniolo went close before McGinn rescued the hosts in stoppage time.

Cash got free on the right and crossed for the midfielder to nod in from six yards.

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Last modified on Thursday, 05 October 2023 16:54
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