Boss Unai Emery insists Aston Villa’s 1-0 win over Zrinjski Mostar proves why their European rivals must be respected.
John McGinn’s added-time header saved Villa’s skins in the Europa Conference League.
Mostar, who beat AZ Alkmaar 4-3 last month, defended heroically and were two minutes away from a battling point at Villa Park.
A captain's performance. pic.twitter.com/XeIuBh9QU7
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) October 5, 2023
It leaves Group E delicately poised after Villa lost their opener 3-2 at Legia Warsaw. Their 1-0 defeat at AZ on Thursday leaves all four teams locked on three points.
Emery said: “My message is always you have to respect every team. For them it’s very important to play in Europe, against us, to show their power as well. Their commitment in 90 minutes was amazing. It was not easy to break it.
“In the second half we played very well, we had chances and we scored in the end.
“I knew before the match it was going to be difficult because they are going to defend. That happened in the first half. Hopefully we can build a team with everybody.”
The Prince of Wales was also in the crowd to see Villa’s late show.
Emery added: “It’s the third time I’ve met him, he is welcome for us. He is really feeling emotion with us as well. He met with me, the players and the coaches. We spoke about Aston Villa and his wishes following us this year.”
Mostar threatened early when Antonio Ivancic lobbed over Emi Martinez but lacked any support to follow up and the Villa goalkeeper made a smart save to deny Nemanja Bilbija.
Nicolo Zaniolo saw shots blocked and had an overhead kick saved by the visitors, who were organised and comfortable.
Villa thought they had a penalty early in the second half when Ollie Watkins’ header hit Slobodan Jakovljevic in the face. Referee Urs Schnyder gave the spot-kick for handball but correctly changed his decision after viewing the replays.
Villa then camped in the Mostar half, Diego Carlos, Youri Tielemans and Zaniolo going close before McGinn’s late intervention.
Matty Cash crossed from the right and McGinn glanced in a header from six yards to spare the Premier League side.
Mostar boss Krunoslav Rendulic said: “Aston Villa won deservedly, we gave our maximum.
“We knew we could only put up a good defence in answer to their quality. Unfortunately that effort wasn’t rewarded. If we had defended that goal it would have been a great success.
“I can’t say anything against my players. In the second half we were suffering, we couldn’t go forward. We did defend very well. We couldn’t survive until the end and the final seconds were disastrous for us.”