Villa Report: Unai Emery Completes Aston Villa’s European Transformation

Aston Villa Report vs Brighton – 28th May 2023

In a Word

Emotional: ‘An emotional situation or issue is one that causes people to have strong feelings’ 

(Collins Dictionary)

The Carter Report

By Rob Carter

Warm sunshine poured from the skies outside Villa Park, and the air was filled with anticipation. Supporters had been encouraged to arrive at the stadium early to welcome the team bus, turning this Europa Conference League D-Day into a real event. Fans lined up outside the North stand amidst flares and noise, making it truly feel like we were part of something special.

Inside the stadium, the concourse was alive with song. Could Unai Emery’s men qualify for Europe for the first time in 13 years?

Villa fielded an unchanged side, and the fans were further energized by pre-match appearances on the touchline from departing player Jed Steer and club legend Olof Mellberg.

Within a few minutes, the home side came close to taking the lead. As often happens, the threat came from the left, with the ball being worked into Leon Bailey, who thumped a deflected shot off the crossbar. Strong starts under Emery have become commonplace at Villa Park, and this match was no exception.

Just eight minutes later, the goal arrived. Great work on the left by birthday boy Jacob Ramsey left the player of the season, Douglas Luiz, unmarked and able to sweep the ball home past Jason Steele in the Brighton goal. It was a well-deserved 1-0 lead.

Brighton’s clever interplay and slick passing caused Villa problems, however, and they soon equalized through a Deniz Undav header. The German looked close to being offside, and the home stands were flooded with relief when VAR came to Villa’s rescue.

The let-off saw Villa attack with renewed vigor, with Luiz and John McGinn looking tenacious in midfield, and Boubacar Kamara working hard to maintain possession. Villa’s midfielders were winning the battle in the center of the park, and it showed once again when McGinn thundered into a challenge in the center circle, allowing Bailey to release Ramsey on the left. In a flash, the youngster advanced towards goal and set up Ollie Watkins for his 16th goal of the season. The score was now 2-0, and Villa were flying.

Despite their two-goal advantage, Brighton still posed a threat. This threat became a reality with an Undav goal in the 38th minute, as the German cleverly maneuvered past Tyrone Mings to slot the ball home. Initially ruled out for offside, the ubiquitous VAR overturned the decision, and the score was now 2-1, causing nerves to jangle.

During the interval, the lower Holte concourse was lively. The news that Tottenham were leading at Leeds meant that Villa had to hold onto their advantage to secure qualification for Europe.

The second half ebbed and flowed much like the first, with Brighton making two changes at the break to try to neutralize Villa’s attacking threat. Despite some nervy moments, Villa held strong, marshaled magnificently again by McGinn and Ramsey.

Ramsey missed a golden opportunity to score on his birthday, firing over in front of the Holte End from a Bailey cross when it appeared easier to score.

With both Spurs and Brentford leading, the trapdoor of a potential Brighton equaliser to kill off Villa’s European hopes, cast a nervous shadow over the closing stages.

Emery made only one change, bringing on Emi Buendia for Leon Bailey. Fortunately, the miss did not cost the home side as, despite having a lot of possession, the visitors could not convert their pressure into serious chances in front of the goal.

As the clock ticked down, it was perhaps fitting that McGinn took the ball into the corner in front of the adoring Holte End, shielding it with his magnificent derriere before smashing it against a defender and earning a corner.

As it happened, there was no time for the corner, as the referee blew for full time amidst joyous scenes.  Villa had done it!

Emery deserves enormous credit for the job he has done since taking over on November 1st, winning 15 of 25 games and taking Villa from a relegation battle and into Europe.  The players have responded wonderfully to the thoughtful Spaniard’s coaching, transforming themselves from also rans to elite level performers.

With passports at the ready, and Villa fans looking forward to jetting off to far-flung European climes, the summer ahead will be filled with anticipation.

The future is bright – the future is claret & blue!


Value rating: £35 (out of £35…next season, matches will be scored out of £41)

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