Aston Villa player ratings vs LOSC Lille: Several 'awful' 4/10s but two 'heroic' 8s

Aston Villa player ratings from the dramatic Europa Conference League quarter-final second leg against LOSC Lille at Stade Pierre Mauroy.

Aston Villa progressed to the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa Conference League in dramatic style on Thursday night, beating LOSC Lille 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a tumultuous 3-3 draw on aggregate. Matty Cash’s 88th-minute goal took the tie the distance after a horror-show team performance beforehand. Les Dogues were excellent while the Villans were sloppy defensively to concede twice and didn’t record a single shot on target until the final quarter of an hour of the initial 90 minutes.

The rollercoaster night was shaped by a recalcitrant refereeing show from Ivan Kruzliak, the Slovak official obsessive with card-bearing and unnecessary stoppages throughout. As the tensions were already high, the last thing needed was a disruptive adjudicator but that’s exactly the role Kruzliak played.

Villa were shaky from the off and Lille opened the scoring in the 15th minute, Yusuf Yazici striking exquisitely from a terrific low Gabriel Gudmundsson cross. It was an inch-perfect cut-back to find Yazici on the edge of the area and Emiliano Martinez had no chance as the ball was fired far into the bottom corner. The goal was coming as Lille established early dominance in possession and Villa lacked confidence.

Benjamin Andre went close to making it 2-0 in the 25th minute but a brave stop from Martinez’s face denied the Lille captain, turning the ball behind. Emery was forced into a change - but not to replace Martinez - as midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo was downed by Andre. The Italian could stand but was jarred by an awkward landing, prompting Emery to call Morgan Rogers from the bench. 

Referee Kruzliak lost control as tensions grew before half time. Martinez was shown a yellow card for repetitive time-wasting, although the booking was received peculiarly as the Argentine had the ball in regular possession. Nabil Bentaleb and Andre were then cautioned before Kruzliak reached for the yellow card again to punish Emery and Paulo Fonseca for failing to control their emotions on the touchline.

Whatever Emery said in the dressing room had a temporary impact as the Villans improved in possession after the break, surpassing the halfway more often. Cash went near as he fired an effort into the side netting but Lille, in response, soon regained control. The set piece hoodoo returned for Villa as Les Douges captain Andre headed his side two goals in front from a corner – and crucially 3-2 ahead on aggregate. The midfielder sent the Stade Pierre-Mauroy wild, looping the ball into the top right stanchion. It was terrible defending from Cash as he was outjumped by one of the shortest players on the field.

Villa, forced to attack and chase the game, improved. Cash had another chance as he struck with venom from around 30 yards but goalkeeper Lucas Chevalier turned the ball behind. The long-range effort, in the 82nd minute, was remarkably the visitors’ first on target of the entire match. Leon Bailey, subbed on for Moussa Diaby, then doubled that tally with a tame strike straight at Chevalier just a minute later.

Sensationally, just as you thought Villa were about to be dumped out, Cash stepped up to score in the 88th minute with a pile-driver from outside the area. Chevalier - falling over his own defender - dropped a deflected Ollie Watkins cross and the ball made it out to Cash to strike with fury. The referee, worsening his look, was perplexed for around 20 seconds after, guided only by his earpiece to award the goal.

As neither team could score in stoppage time, the fixture went to an extra 30 minutes. With both sets of players tiring, the encounter opened up and Douglas Luiz had a glorious chance to nod Villa in front. Chevalier made an incredible double save, first denying Bailey before Luiz’s header on the rebound was instinctively directed away. Lille’s Tiago Santos had a decent opportunity, too, as the defender saw a low drive fizz merely inches wide of the left post.

But as the aggregate score remained 3-3 at the final whistle, penalties were in order – as was more refereeing drama. Youri Tielemans stepped up first, converting in the bottom right. Martinez then made a huge save, denying Bentaleb with a diving stop before winding up the home crowd. Kruzliak then showed Martinez a second yellow of the game, making many believe he’d received his marching orders, but the laws state yellows during the match don’t carry on to penalties.

As the spot-kicks continued, Watkins, Cash, Jonathan David and Angel Gomes all converted but Bailey, despite being a brilliant impact substitute in regular play, saw his penalty saved by Chevalier. Remy Cabella made it 3-3 after four penalties each but Luiz was calm to reassert Villa’s advantage, applying the pressure to final Lille taker Andre. The captain, a goalscorer on the night, couldn’t repeat his heroics as Martinez saved expertly to send Villa through.

Here are Birmingham World reporter Charlie Haffenden’s player ratings from an action-packed night at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

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