Aston Villa are finally off the mark in the Europa Conference League, with captain John McGinn snatching a late winner on home turf.
After marking their return to the continental stage with a disappointing defeat two weeks ago, McGinn stepped up to the plate to secure a narrow 1-0 win for Unai Emery’s side against HSK Zrinjski Mostar.
With Villa Park hosting its first European fixture in over a decade, maximum points was the primary objective for the Midlands outfit.
They got off to a fast start, with Nicolo Zaniolo looking particularly dangerous, as the Italian had two efforts on goal deflected behind, and a spectacular bicycle kick parried away.
Despite controlling proceedings in the early stages of the game, their dominant start proved futile, with the Villans struggling to break down the Bosnia & Herzegovina top-flight title holders.
Zrinjski began to grow into the game and looked particularly dangerous with half-time on the horizon, but neither side found that elusive goal to break the deadlock, heading into the interval level.
Emery made a triple change, including the introduction of the club’s highest goalscorer, Ollie Watkins.
The Englishman, whose form earned him a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad, was immediately in the thick of the action as his goal-bound header struck the hand of Slobodan Jakovljevic.
On-field referee Urs Schnyder initially gave Villa a penalty, but the decision was overturned after a VAR review, frustrating the home crowd even further.
They continued to probe but failed to take any of their chances, while a resolute Zrinjski defence continued to repel a barrage of attacks from those in Claret and Blue.
Villa, who had over 25 shots with nothing to show for it, finally found a breakthrough in the 95th minute as McGinn popped up in the box to head home from close range past Maric.
McGinn’s heroics sealed maximum points for Emery’s side, who have landed their first win in the Conference League but remain third in Group E.
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