Soccer

Unai Emery eager to top group after Aston Villa reach ECL knockout stages

Aston Villa’s Alex Moreno celebrates his winner against Legia. (Joe Giddens/PA)
Aston Villa’s Alex Moreno celebrates his winner against Legia. (Joe Giddens/PA) Aston Villa’s Alex Moreno celebrates his winner against Legia. (Joe Giddens/PA)

Unai Emery urged Aston Villa to finish the job after they booked their spot in the Europa Conference League knockout stages.

The manager wants to seal top spot in Group E following Thursday’s 2-1 win over Legia Warsaw.

Alex Moreno’s winner – on his first appearance since May following a hamstring injury – earned victory after Moussa Diaby’s opener was cancelled out by Ernest Muci in the first half.

Victory came after Legia fans clashed with police before the game – injuring three officers – which saw the supporters barred from Villa Park.

Villa moved above Legia at the top of the group and need a point in Mostar, the final group game, next month to guarantee their last 16 spot.

Emery said: “I’m really happy because we started this competition losing in Warsaw. We wanted to show how we have improved after that match and we played well.

“We were professional, feeling good, feeling strong and we want to finish first. It’s not complete yet but we are close to it.

“This competition is very important, it’s a trophy and trying to get minutes for some players. Alex Moreno has come back, Jacob Ramsey, Jhon Duran got 90 minutes and as a team we had to get performances with every player.”

Diaby struck after four minutes when he was sent scampering down the right by Youri Tielemans before cutting inside and finding the corner.

Jhon Duran went close to adding a second before Legia cashed in on a terrible error by Boubacar Kamara after 20 minutes.

The midfielder received the ball from Robin Olsen on the edge of the box but passed straight to Muci, who found the top corner.

Encouraged, Legia settled and went close three minutes into the second half when Gil Dias’ header hit the bar.

But it sparked Villa back into life and, after Kacper Tobiasz denied Diaby, Moreno netted a 59th-minute winner when he volleyed in Douglas Luiz’s free kick.

Legia, who beat Villa 3-2 in the opening game in September, are three points behind and are now facing a last 32 tie against a side dropping down from the Europa League in February.

Boss Kosta Runjaic said: “It’s the expected result but we faced it in a pretty good way. Villa have a lot of power at home and are unbeaten since February.

“The first half was equal, we tried to play with courage and scored a fantastic goal. Villa played a good game but we could have defended their free-kick better and in the end it was a deserved win for Villa.

“Now we have one game left, we will be well-prepared.”