Aston Villa’s hopes in tatters after home defeat to Olympiacos

Aston Villa’s hopes of reaching a first European final since 1982 are in tatters after losing 4-2 in the first leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final against Olympiacos.

Villa, playing their biggest occasion in Europe since winning the European Cup 42 years ago, suffered a Greek tragedy as they crumbled on home soil.

Ayoub El Kaabi scored a hat-trick and Santiago Hezze’s deflected effort made it a memorable night for Nottingham Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis’ side.

Villa looked primed to take control of the tie after goals either side of half-time from Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby had made it 2-2, but they capitulated to concede twice in 11 minutes.

Even then, they could have boosted their chances but Douglas Luiz missed a penalty in the final 10 minutes.

Unai Emery is chasing a fifth European trophy, but that now looks unlikely as his side must overturn a two-goal deficit in next week’s second leg in Athens.

And that will be a tall order given they have only won two of six European away ties so far this season and Olympiacos is a notoriously tough place to go.

No one was quite expecting exactly how frantic the game would be and the tone was set inside the opening 10 minutes.

Olympiacos goalkeeper Kostas Tzolakis made a fine save when he flung himself to his left and got fingertips on Morgan Rogers’ shot.

The hosts then had the ball in the back of the net when Leon Bailey nodded home from a corner, but Italian referee Marco Guida ruled it out for a foul by Clement Lenglet in the build-up.

Villa needed that to count as the tie looked like being taken away from them in a damaging 13-minute spell where they fell 2-0 down.

Olympiacos silenced Villa Park when they went ahead in the 17th minute.

Chiquinho’s clever flick set El Kaabi through on goal and he clinically fired past Robin Olsen in front of the Holte End.

The linesman’s flag went up but VAR ruled Matty Cash was playing the visiting striker onside and the goal stood.

Villa were all at sea and found themselves 2-0 down in the 28th minute as El Kaabi again struck.

The striker benefited from Lucas Digne’s failed attempt to play offside and raced on to former Wolves attacker Daniel Podence’s through ball to round Olsen and convert.

Emery’s side were all over the place and could have been three down before half-time but Kostas Fortounis drilled over from a counter-attack.

Villa were getting frustrated by the officious referee, who angered them further when he rejected appeals for a penalty after Bailey went down.

But they harnessed that frustration and got back in it on the stroke of half-time.

It was a move straight out of the Villa playbook as Cash advanced down the right and fed Diaby, who teed up Watkins to emphatically fire into the bottom corner.

The start of the second half was delayed by a medical emergency in the crowd, but that did not stop Villa’s momentum and they levelled in the 52nd minute.

Lenglet’s long ball found Bailey, who slipped in Diaby to fire home from an acute angle.

At that point, Villa would have expected to go on and take control of the tie, but they wobbled.

Four minutes later they were back behind as Luiz was penalised when the ball hit his raised arm at a corner and El Kaabi completed his hat-trick when he converted the penalty.

Things got even worse in the 67th minute when Hezze’s shot from distance flicked the back of Ezri Konsa and wrong-footed Olsen, who got a hand to it.

Villa should have reduced their deficit in the 84th minute but Luiz’s penalty hit a post after Jhon Duran was bundled over, meaning they must travel to Greece next week and produce a comeback.


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