Aston Villa came from behind to beat AZ Alkmaar 2-1 at Villa Park and all but secure qualification to the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League.
Vangelis Pavlidis had given the Eredivisie side the lead early in the second half but Diego Carlos headed Villa level just after the hour mark before Ollie Watkins nodded in the winner in the 81st minute.
Unai Emery’s side remain second in Group E following Legia Warsaw’s victory but there is now a six-point gap to third. The Polish side come to Villa Park next with the prize of winning the group and securing a route straight to the round of 16 on the line.
How Villa turned it around to win
Villa overwhelmed AZ in Alkmaar just a fortnight ago, running out 4-1 winners, and there were hints at a gulf in quality in those early moments as the home side started strongly. The first goal looked to have come inside three minutes when Clement Lenglet nodded in.
It took a VAR review to spot that crosser Leon Bailey had been offside near the goal line. Villa did dominate the ball thereafter but could not create an opening quite so clear for the rest of the half, while Pavlidis found rather more space at the other end.
The Greek striker has 14 goals in 11 Eredivisie games so far this season and it was easy to see why. He almost chipped Emi Martinez with one ambitious effort before missing the target when better placed. When he did find the net following a fine move, the flag went up.
But with Villa persisting with that high defensive line, Pavlidis did eventually find a way through, racing clear from near the halfway line before lifting the ball beyond Martinez. The AZ support were raucous at that point, Villa’s European campaign stuttering.
The game turned again on a controversial corner decision that had AZ boss Pascal Jansen fuming. Lucas Digne crossed for Boubacar Kamara and the midfielder somehow spooned his shot over from close range. The referee awarded a corner and Villa capitalised.
Carlos’s header altered the energy inside the stadium and Villa pushed hard for the winner but it took the introduction of Douglas Luiz to make it happen. The Brazilian midfielder emerged from the bench and provided the delightful pass to find Watkins.
It was not Villa’s most convincing performance and AZ came away wondering whether they might have made more of those spaces behind the Villa back line. But Watkins won it and his side are well placed to progress following their eighth win in nine home games this season.
Aston Villa’s final fixture before the international break comes on Sunday as they face Fulham in the Premier League; kick-off 2pm. Their next Europa Conference League fixture is on Thursday November 30 at home to Legia Warsaw.
AZ Alkmaar face Feyenoord in the Eredivisie on Sunday; kick-off 3.45pm. Their next Europa League fixture is on Thursday November 30 against Zrinjski.