Aston Villa player ratings vs LOSC Lille: Two 'outstanding' 9/10s but one 4 and four 6s

Aston Villa player ratings from the Europa Conference League quarter-final first leg against LOSC Lille at Villa Park.

Aston Villa will travel to France with a slender advantage after beating LOSC Lille 2-1 in the UEFA Europa Conference League quarter-final first leg. It wasn’t comfortable as the visitors peppered the home net but the Villans ran out victorious on an evening of milestones at Villa Park; Unai Emery enjoying his 1,000th career game in management and Villa carrying out their duties for the 100th time in UEFA competitions.

Ollie Watkins’ first-half header and captain John McGinn’s curling long-range effort were the difference but Lille certainly made a good game of it, often surpassing the Villa press and forcing Emiliano Martinez into an array of heroic saves. Centre-back Bafode Diakite scored late on to give Les Douges a deserved fighting chance for the second leg next week but it could’ve been far more had the ‘world’s number one’ Martinez not been on form.

Watkins roared Villa Park into life with his 13th-minute header to open the scoring after two chances missed in quick succession. Lille were displeased when defender Leny Yuro was bundled over by Watkins for an opening and it led to another as a decent shot on target was saved. Skip forward merely 60 seconds and Villa had a second set-piece, swung in by McGinn and headed into the ground by an unmarked Watkins.

Lille will be disappointed to have conceded prematurely as Paulo Fonseca’s side looked comfortable in the opening exchanges, zipping the ball around and beating Villa’s midfield with relative ease. There was a decent early chance for the visitors, too, as Diego Carlos underplayed a backpass to Martinez but Jonathan David and Edon Zhegrova were unable to sort their feet out.

Les Douges responded well to going a goal down as the Ligue 1 outfit established control in possession and found space in the channels. Central defender Bafode Diakite somehow got in behind Carlos but saw an effort smothered by Martinez before a terrible Morgan Rogers giveaway set Hakon Arnar Haraldsson running. Top scorer David was fed clean through by the midfielder but Martinez did excellently to block the shot with his legs, sparing Rogers’ blushes.

Fonseca grew increasingly frustrated on the touchline - perhaps due to his team’s inefficiency in front of goal - and the head coach was shown a yellow card by referee Espen Eskas on the verge of half time. The tension within the ground carried over into the start of the second period as Douglas Luiz received a booking for a shirt tug and Villa were denied what appeared to be a clear penalty. The hosts’ cries were understandable as Lille captain Benjamin Andre cut across Watkins, definitely catching the back of the forward’s leg.

But the VAR frustration was soon cancelled out by jubilance as captain McGinn doubled Villa’s advantage with a glorious goal in the 56th minute. Luiz took a corner short to Leon Bailey and the Jamaican slipped but managed to find McGinn on the edge of the area. Up stepped the Scotsman, opening up his body to curl the ball beautifully into the bottom left-hand corner for 2-0.

Lille threw a spanner in the works in the 63rd minute as Haraldsson fired the ball past Martinez at the far post to reduce the deficit – or so he thought. Tiago Santos whipped in a superb deep cross and Iceland international Haraldsson finished clinically to send the away crowd wild. VAR then stepped in to rule the goal out for offside. It was a bizarre one as Carlos - at least from the naked eye - appeared to play the midfielder onside but the offside was tighter than assumed.

Martinez was called into action twice in the 72nd minute as Gabriel Gudmundsson headed on target from a free-kick and Haraldsson then squeezed in an effort at the near post from the resultant corner. Villa’s goalkeeper was rightfully praised by the home support as he maintained his side’s advantage.

But Lille eventually found a way through to make it 2-1 as Diakite nodded home from a Remy Cabella corner in the 84th minute. Carlos was outjumped by Diakite at the near post and paid the price as the ball nestled into the far corner, giving Martinez no hope of coming up trumps again. There was a brief gasp in added time as Yusuf Yazici tried his luck from range but the ball fizzed past the upright.

Here are Birmingham World reporter Charlie Haffenden’s player ratings as Villa hold onto their narrow lead.

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