Aston Villa run riot against Ajax but Ollie Watkins’ injury leaves them sweating

Moussa Diaby
Moussa Diaby races through to make it 4-0 - Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Aston Villa are heading for their first European quarter-final since 1998 and Unai Emery has insisted there are no serious concerns over a potential injury for Ollie Watkins.

Villa’s leading scorer delivered the pivotal moment with his 22nd goal of the season before leaving the field, raising initial doubts over his availability for club and country this month.

Watkins appeared in pain as he walked towards the tunnel, after suffering a deep wound to his knee, but Emery declared that the forward could be fit for Sunday’s match at West Ham.

Ollie Watkins on the ground
Ollie Watkins was injured before scoring with a bullet header but could not continue much longer - Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Watkins appeared in pain as he walked towards the tunnel, after suffering a deep wound to his knee, but Emery declared that the forward could be fit for Sunday’s match at West Ham.

Gareth Southgate will also be relieved ahead of England’s upcoming friendlies after Watkins emerged as the trusted deputy behind captain Harry Kane.

“We don’t know exactly what the [issue] is. Maybe for Sunday he could be available,” said Emery.

“It is no more than a cut but we will have to wait until tomorrow [Friday] to see how he is progressing. He is working hard this season.”

The scare occurred in the 16th minute when Watkins collided late with Ajax goalkeeper Diant Ramaj as he prepared to clear the ball in his area.

Watkins was booked for the challenge and did briefly return to the field to produce a decisive moment in the 25th minute, heading home Douglas Luiz’s wickedly inswinging corner.

Yet minutes later he sank to the turf again and could not continue.

Despite Watkins’ premature exit, this was another stirring European night at Villa Park.

Villa remain the favourites for this season’s Europa Conference League under Emery, the serial trophy winner, and will discover their next opponents on Friday afternoon.

This was the perfect response to their surprise thrashing by Tottenham last weekend, which damaged their bid to secure Champions League football next season.

Ajax did have midfielder Sivert Mannsverk sent off in the second half, after two cautions, but it was a lopsided affair for long periods of the evening.

Emery said: “We’re happy, it was very important. We tried to connect with our supporters.

“We are motivated for this competition and it’s good experience for us in trying to feel strong. We did it here with our supporters.”

Emery’s tenure at Villa has been an uplifting story so far so the disappointment of Sunday’s home defeat by Tottenham was intense.

It proved a rare occasion when Emery’s tactics came under scrutiny, after the Basque coach opted to start with a back-five.

That setback raised the stakes for this contest, yet Emery cannot have envisaged such a stress-free evening.

It proved a miserable first return to a Premier League stadium for Jordan Henderson since his departure from Liverpool in the summer.

Henderson joined Ajax in January after six months in Saudi Arabia and was typically committed here, hours after being named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad earlier in the day.

Jordan Henderson
Jordan Henderson tried to encourage his very young side but his return to English club football proved chastening for Ajax - Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Yet Villa were always in control and punished Ajax for wasting a fine chance to equalise in first-half injury time when Brian Brobbey’s shot was cleared off the line by Matt Cash.

The pressure had been building steadily, with Watkins’ replacement Jhon Duran missing from close range, and Leon Bailey delivered an excellent individual strike on the hour by cleverly bypassing Jorrel Hato to drill the ball into the corner.

Ajax’s evening was over and they were reduced to ten men 24 minutes from the end when Mannsverk was sent off for a foul on Duran.

Villa were now dominating and Duran unleashed an emphatic strike from 20 yards, which crashed in off the underside of the crossbar.

Moussa Diaby provided the gloss with another fine solo effort eight minutes from time, and this is why Villa remain the best bet to win this competition.

Moussa Diaby provided the gloss with another fine solo effort eight minutes from time, and this is why Villa remain the best bet to win this competition.

Match details

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Martinez; Cash, Carlos (Lenglet 74), Torres, Moreno; Diaby, McGinn, Douglas Luiz (Kellyman 83), Rogers (Tielemans 46); Bailey (Iroegbunam 74), Watkins (Duran 33). 
Substitutes: Olsen (g), Gauci (g), Digne, Kesler-Hayden.
Booked: Rogers, Watkins.
Ajax (3-4-2-1): Ramaj; Sutalo (Gaaei 69), Kaplan (Akpom 39), Hato; Rensch (Tahirovic 79), Henderson, Mannsverk, Sosa; Hlynsson,  Taylor; Brobbey. 
Substitutes: Rulli (g), Pasveer (g), Borges, Medic, Rijkhoff, Van den Boomen, Vos, Fitz-Jim, Godts. 
Booked: Mannsverk. Sent off Mannsverk.
Referee: Orel Grinfeeld (Israel).

Villa 4 Ajax 0: as it happened

09:54 PM GMT

Full time: Villa 4 Ajax 0 (agg: 4-0)

The referee shows some mercy to Ajax by blowing bang on 90 despite a handful of second-half stoppages.

Time for the late Jeff Beck with his errant child of a greatest hit.

09:53 PM GMT

89 min: Villa 4 Ajax 0 (agg: 4-0)

Pau Torres boots the ball behind for a corner to stop Akpom getting a cross in

09:52 PM GMT

87 min: Villa 4 Ajax 0 (agg: 4-0)

Brobbey has a rare glimmer when sent down the inside right and through on Martinez. Brobbey taps it to the right having outsprinted Lenglet to try to round the keeper but the World Cup winner sticks out a big left paw and grabs the ball. Cue huge cheer from the Holte.

09:48 PM GMT

84 min: Villa 4 Ajax 0 (agg: 4-0)

Ajax look absolutely banjaxed, sloughened as they say in Yorkshire, utterly deflated and knackered.

Kellyman ⇢ Douglas Luiz

09:44 PM GMT


Villa 4 Ajax 0 (agg: 4-0) [Diaby]  He starts wide on the right, clips it infield to Tielemans and sprints through to take the return in the one-two, leaving Sosa for dead. He hares into the box, looks at the top left then gulls the keeper who anticipates curl by wrapping his instep around the ball and going top right with a sweeping shot instead.

09:43 PM GMT

78 min: Villa 3 Ajax 0 (agg: 3-0)

Just to note that Diego Carlos walked off and applauded the Villa fans who gave him the love back in spades. Can’t be too serious.

Rensch was injured sliding in to try to stop Diaby’s run to set up the goal.

Tahirovic ⇢ Rensch.

09:37 PM GMT


Villa 3 Ajax 0 (agg: 3-0) [Duran] Thundered a shot on to the underside of the bar from 19 yards with a vicious left-foot shot. The ref’s GLT watch pinged and he signalled to the centre spot. Quick VAR check for offside when he received the ball from Diaby ...

Goal stands.

09:37 PM GMT

73 min: Villa 2 Ajax 0 (agg: 2-0)

Long delay for treatment for Diego Carlos who is going to have to come off.

Lenglet ⇢ Diego Carlos

Iroegbunum ⇢ Bailey

09:34 PM GMT

70 min: Villa 2 Ajax 0 (agg: 2-0)

Ajax have gone to 3-4-2 after the red card with Taylor and Henderson in the middle of the four, Gaaei on the right, Sosa on the left. McGinn races back to tackle Gaaei and buys a foul, too when the sub wraps his arms around him after losing the ball.

09:32 PM GMT

68 min: Villa 2 Ajax 0 (agg: 2-0)

Error by Ramaj with his feet allows Duran to send Diaby in down the left but the weight of pass makes the shooting angle too acute and Ramaj gets back to smother it.

Ajax sub:

Gaaei ⇢ Hlynsson.

09:29 PM GMT

65 min: Villa 2 Ajax 0 (agg: 2-0)

Mannsverk receives a second yellow and hence a red for tugging Duran’s shirt in the centre-circle to stop himself being rolled.

09:27 PM GMT

63 min: Villa 2 Ajax 0 (agg: 2-0)

Duran bullies his way down the inside left, leaving Mannsverk in his wake before, again, blazing over from 20 yards.

09:23 PM GMT


Villa 2 Ajax 0 (agg: 2-0) [Bailey]  Brings out the bag of tricks to shimmy, feint and throw Hato off to the left so he could drag a rare shot with his right across goal and in at the far post. A perfect example of what the former Villa manager Ron Atkinson used to call ‘an amusement arcade’ goal.

09:23 PM GMT

59 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Duran wants a penalty when he traps a fiercely struck ball that was sent in from the right and then collided with the keeper but it wasn’t a foul. If anything Duran stepped on him.

09:20 PM GMT

57 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Duran blazes wide after beating Sutalo down the outside on the right. Sutalo rips a hole in his Castore shirt but he keeps going, opens his body and smacks it into the crowd. He was aiming to arc it into the top but it didn’t curl back in, more cucumber than banana bend.

09:18 PM GMT

55 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Henderson clips a 50-yard diagonal early from the right. Brobbey runs on to it and Diego Carlos muscles him off the ball in the challenge before he could control it.

Ajax Amsterdam's Jordan Henderson shouts
Henderson orchestrates Ajax's attempt to come back - REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

09:16 PM GMT

52 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Diego Carlos shows a turn of pace to hare back towards his own box and nick the ball away from Brobbey who was trying to close in to have a one-on-one with Martinez.

09:13 PM GMT

50 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Really scrappy start. Hato looks like he’s going to be the latest Ajax defensive diamond, cutting out a pass intended for Diaby by gliding towards the ball.

09:12 PM GMT

49 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Ajax shout for a pen when McGinn’s error lets Taylor nip in and drive towards the area. He slips a pass to let Hlynsson run into the box down the right where he is tackled by Alex Moreno ... fairly.

09:10 PM GMT

48 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

McGinn fizzes a pass from the left to Duran who controls it into the ground but it bounces up and hits his hand, sitting up nicely for him to volley ... over the bar. The referee then whistles for the handball.

09:09 PM GMT

46 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Eventually we’re off and Alex Moreno skips down the left and stands up a cross that Hato heads aqay.

09:08 PM GMT

There’s a delay

Communication problem with the microphones between the VAR and the ref’s headset.

09:07 PM GMT

Half-time sub

Tielemans ⇢ Rogers. Presumably to save him froma  second ywllow

08:54 PM GMT

Half-time: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Not a classic, too many stoppages but Villa have been the better side. Akpom has given Ajax hope with a couple of good runs down the right but they have created only one chance. Douglas Luiz, meanwhile, is dictating the tempo and Bailey’s link-up play with Diaby always looks threatening.

08:52 PM GMT

45+5 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Brilliant work from Akpon down the right to burn past Alex Moreno, taking the ball to the byline before pulling it back to the right of the penalty spot. Brobbey opens his body to hit a left-foot shot towards the bottom left, beating Martinez but not the diligent Cash who wellied it away.

08:50 PM GMT

45+3 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Brobbey is down holding his face. Diego Carlos protests his innocence. The ref stops play but takes no further action. No replay so don’t know what happened, probably nothing.

08:48 PM GMT

45+1 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

The first of five minutes of stoppage time ends with Sosa being played in down the left with a diagonal over the top but he can’t pick out Brobbey with his cut-back.

08:47 PM GMT

45 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Diaby pounces on a Sutalo slip but then plays a curious ball out to his right to Bailey, chipping it so Bailey had to leap to cushion it with his chest, and this slowing it down. Eventually they work the ball inside, giving Rogers something to run on to but he hammers his 22-yard shot over the bar.

08:45 PM GMT

43 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Rogers spins away from Brobbey and fizzes a pass into Duran’s feet. He turns away from goal and elicits a groan of frustration.

08:43 PM GMT

41 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Duran flashes the thumbs up to the bench but he, too, has banged his right knee cap and gives it a vigorous rub.

08:41 PM GMT

39 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Cash goes on one of his raids up the right but his first attempt at squaring it hits a defender ... but ricochets back to him so he has another go ... and does no better.

Rensch moves into the back three and Hlynsson drops back to right wing-back.

08:39 PM GMT

37 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Akpom ⇢ Kaplan.

08:37 PM GMT

34 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Corner for Villa on the right again. Bailey whips it in and Ramaj punches it out off his goal-line. Kaplan sits down and asks to come off. He has hurt his back, or the top of his right buttock when sliding in to tackle Bailey and was dead-legged by the Jamaica forward.

08:34 PM GMT

32 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Jhon Duran ⇢ Watkins.

08:32 PM GMT

30 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Taylor is penalised for stepping on to Bailey’s foot and Watkins signals to the bench after going down again. He wants to come off and Bailey escorts him to the touchline.

Ollie Watkins lies on the ground
Watkins was initially hurt when fouling Ramaj - Michael Regan/Getty Images

08:30 PM GMT

28 min: Villa 1 Ajax 0 (agg: 1-0)

Rogers escapes a second yellow card for a late tackle on Rensch, catching him with both feet. The ref, who has been card happy hitherto, gives him a telling off instead.

08:27 PM GMT


Villa 1 Ajax 0 [agg: 1-0] (Watkins)  Buries a header from the corner, makes a run across goal and steers it in at the far post, giving Ramaj no chance. A man on the post would have almost certainly stopped it but there wasn’t one.

08:26 PM GMT

25 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Chance for Villa, again instigated by Rogers driving at the back three before sliding a pass down the inside right. Diaby pokes it past Ramaj and takesit to the byline, tightening the angle but giving the keeper the time to spring to his feet and block his shot behind. Should have squared it.

08:24 PM GMT

23 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Villa’s best move, ignited by Rogers’ cute pass down the right for Diaby. Bailey had taken his man out to the touchline to give Diaby the space and then spurts infield to take the pass from his team-mate, spins and hooks a shot past the far post.

08:23 PM GMT

21 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Ajax flood forward as Sosa runs on to a diagonal chipped down the left. It’s 4 v 4 in the box but Sosa’s cross is picked off by Alex Moreno who heads it to Martinez.

08:21 PM GMT

20 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Huge cheer greets Watkins’ return. Now Diaby is penalised for crashing into Kaplan’s braced standing leg as he laid the ball off with his right.

08:20 PM GMT

19 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Probably not as serious as it originally looked, but his shin and knee cap is being bandaged and he eventually gets up, to be deservedly booked. He pulls his sock over the strapping and signals that he will try to carry on.

08:18 PM GMT

17 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Watkins tries to close Ramaj down and misses the ball with his slide, catching the keeper on the ankle. Watkins comes off worse, banging his knee and he’s blowing hard s he covers his face with his shirt as the medics keep working on him.

08:17 PM GMT

15 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Bailey dinks the ball to the back post floatily and Moreno races round the back of Ajax’s high line but can’t get there before it skids out.

08:16 PM GMT

13 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Nervy start from Villa who haven’t been very good at holding on to the ball.

Yellow card for Mannsverk conceding a free-kick 30 yards out, right of centre.

Ajax fans set off their flares
Ajax fans set off their flares - Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

08:12 PM GMT

11 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Villa fans are serenading Henderson with ‘One greedy b------!’. He continues ascting as Ajax’s hub, racking up the touches as his young team-mates carry on their assured start.

Rogers is booked for sliding into Rensch and catching him late.

08:09 PM GMT

9 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Bailey takes it down the right and lines up Hato to hassle but Sosa burst back to help him out and intercept the inside pass.

08:08 PM GMT

7 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Ajax fans whistle when Martinez dallies over a clearance but when he does release it Watkins is penalised for a push on halfway.

08:06 PM GMT

5 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Villa very much go three at the back when they have the ball, pushing one full-back forward. Watkins picks off Ramaj’s pass to the right. Sutalo couldn’t get there but Watkins’ interception forces the ball out for a goalkick. Ramaj berates Sutalo but it was his fault.

08:04 PM GMT

3 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Henderson snaps into the press to force Diego Carlos to rush a pass out of the penalty box but he handles it well and Villa spring up the right with Bailey sending Diaby off. But his cross, when it comes, is cut out by Kaplan.

08:02 PM GMT

1 min: Villa 0 Ajax 0 (agg: 0-0)

Ajax kick off, attacking from left to right with Hlynsson enjoying a run at Alex Moreno, roared on by a noisy Ajax contingent in a raucous crowd.

07:57 PM GMT

Jordan Henderson and John McGinn lead the sides out

Villa in their home kit, Ajax in full Johnny Cash mode.

06:56 PM GMT

Ajax team news

06:56 PM GMT

Aston Villa team news

04:50 PM GMT


Good evening and welcome to live coverage of the second leg of Aston Villa’s R16 Conference League tie against Ajax as Unai Emery tries to win his fifth European trophy as a manager and Villa their second as a club, unless you count the Super Cup and Intertoto, which we don’t so we won’t). Last week’s 0-0 draw at Jopie Cruyff Arena was a rather cagey affair, Villa preoccupied with their match three days later against Spurs, which they lost, and Ajax still lost in incoherence after the disastrous reign of Sven Mislintat as sporting director and Alfred Schreuder and Maurice Steijn as head coaches.

Ajax have improved under the caretakership of John van’t Schip, losing only twice in the Eredivisie since he took over on Halloween, but they’re still not very good as a host of former players have not been shy about telling them.

Villa play West Ham on Sunday and will again have one eye on their Champions League place but are bound to show more ambition in front of a full house with Ajax, however diminished they have been for two seasons, in town. Both sides had a player sent off last week in a shonky refereeing performance – Ezri Konsa was sent off in the 83rd minute after two soft yellow cards, followed by Ajax wing-back Tristan Gooijer three minutes afterwards – and neither will be available. John McGinn, Sunday’s ‘human Scud’ will be starting a three-match Premier League ban at London Stadium, but will wear the armband at Villa Park tonight as Villa pick from a  full squad bar the three long-term absentees Boubacar Kamara, Tyrone Mings and Emi Bunendia. Jacob Ramsey remains a doubt.

Still no Steven Bergwijn and Steven Berghuis for Van’t Schip but he has Devyne Rensch and Josip Sutalo back in the squad.

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