Aston Villa 1 Zrinjski Mostar 0
In a Word
‘Used to describe football fans going absolutely mental when their team has scored, much more than a normal celebration.’
The Carter Report
By Rob Carter
Set against the backdrop of Villa’s 3-2 reverse in Warsaw, this second of six Europa Conference League group games against Zrinjski Mostar was very much in the ‘must win’ category. Approaching the stadium along Witton Lane, the tense mood was palpable, despite the stunning 6-1 hammering of Brighton being fresh in the memory.
Walking past the away section entrance, we were greeted with the somewhat intimidating sight of a thousand or so Mostar fans, very organised in their singing and perhaps anticipating a shock result. They had also been seen earlier lining the steps to one of the entrances to New Street station, again vocal and proud.
Unai Emery had once again rung the changes to the more established Premier League line-up, with six changes to the side from the previous weekend, perhaps most notably bringing Clement Lenglet into central defence, which was somewhat surprising given his poor performance in Warsaw. Jhon Duran had also been preferred to Ollie Watkins up top.
The Uefa livery and anthem made the pre-match walkout of the teams seem a little different, but once the game kicked off, it was back to business, with Villa dominating possession. Despite this, Emi Martinez was forced into a remarkable save in front of the Holte End to prevent Villa going 1-0 down, a result of far too much space being left in behind the home side’s defence on the right hand side.
Having beaten AZ Alkmaar 4-3 in their opening game any kind of positive result away at Villa Park for Zrinjski would be huge for the Bosnian team.
The rest of the half took saw Villa commanding possession but fashioning few clear cut chances. It was looking like a frustrating night was on the cards. Nicola Zaniolo’s stunning overhead kick effort was perhaps the only moment of real quality; the Italian is starting to settle in at B6, with another assured display here.
The second half can only be described as an onslaught on the Mostar goal. The only thing that happened that didn’t involve Villa peppering the visitors goal was a display of pyrotechnics from the away fans on 70 minutes.
As the game meandered towards a seemingly inevitable 0-0 stalemate, following the reversal of a penalty given to the hosts by VAR, Holte Enders were anticipating trudging into the drizzly Aston night with the bitter taste of disappointment in their mouths.
The chap who sits behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘It’s just not happening is it,’ but for some reason I replied, Yoda Like, to say ‘It will come.’
And then, right on cue, SJM happened.
The relief and absolute carnage of the goal celebrations in the Holte will live long in the memory, followed by one of the loudest renditions of ‘We’ve got McGinn, Super John McGinn’ heard at Villa Park in recent years.
The final whistle followed and relief again poured from the stands – at last, the home side had got their European campaign up and running. Bigger and more difficult tests await with the double header against AZ Alkmaar, but with the group now finely poised (all 4 teams having 3 points), there is everything to play for.
In SJM we trust!
Value rating: £20 (out of £27)