Aston Villa returned to Europe for the first time since 2010 in the Uefa Conference League with an away trip to Edinburgh where they came up against Scottish Premier League side, Hibernian.
On paper, it was a game that Unai Emery’s men would have been heavy favourites but we are Villa fans, and we know too well than to get overconfident.
For those who watched on BBC Scotland, you would have been reminded (numerous times) about how much bigger Villa’s budget is compared to Hibernian. It is not something I agree with but that’s modern-day football and it is no different when Villa come up against other clubs who’s budgets are even bigger than ours. You have to find a way of competing and Hibs failed to do that on the night.
In truth, I expected more from them, especially at home. Then again, with Lee Johnson at the helm, I probably should have known better. When a manager is more concerned by where the opposition manager is standing than his own side’s performance, it speaks volumes to me. Anyway, onto the game.
Report: Hibernian 0-5 Aston Villa
Villa made just one change following their 4-0 victory over Everton on Sunday as Diego Carlos replaced Matty Cash who dropped to the bench.
It was a sloppy start for Villa as they struggled to find their rhythm mis-placing passes but they still looked in control and it took them just 17 minutes to take the lead.
Lucas Digne delivered a delicious cross and picked out Ollie Watkins who climbed above two Hibs defenders to guide the ball into the far corner.
Watkins probably should have doubled his tally for the night (and season) moments later when John McGinn found the striker with a cross but he could only watch on as his headed effort went wide.
Leon Bailey then came close when he skillfully jinked his way through the Hibs defence but David Marshall was equal to the effort pushing his effort over the crossbar.
Villa doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark when Carlos was able to knock on a corner for Watkins to head home and make it 2-0.
It went from bad to worse for the home side when Villa made it 3, three minutes before half-time. Once again, it was a headed goal and once again the delivery came from Digne but it was Bailey who got on the end of a move he started.
Emi Martinez was replaced by Robin Olsen at half time and the Swede was called into action shortly after. Élie Youan, with probably the home side’s best chance of the game forced Olsen into a save as he tipped the winger’s effort over the bar.
Villa were soon back on the front foot and soon made it four. Once again Digne crossed the ball for Watkins who this time scored with his feet to make it 4. The linesman flagged for offside but VAR overruled the decision and the goal was rightly given as Watkins completed his hat-trick.
Jhon Duran, Youri Tielemans and Bertrand Traoré were introduced mid-way into the second half and the latter was involved in the fifth goal.
The Burkinabè forward burst into the Hibs penalty area and was taken down, giving the referee no option but to point to the spot.
Douglas Luiz stepped up and scored his second penalty in as many games to all but confirm Villa’s place in the Group Stage.
What the managers said
“We want to be successful in the Conference League. It’s important to be in Europe and do something. Hibernian deserved to be here. We played very serious, very serious. We’ve got a very good advantage for the second leg.
“If we weren’t playing serious, we could have had problems but we had to respect the opposition and the competition. If we weren’t consistent with our focus and gameplan with could have lost. But we did it. It’s not only about tonight or the Conference League, it’s also about building a strong mentality.
“I want us to try and do something in the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Europe is special because we can be candidates to get a trophy. The Conference League might be the third competition but there are a lot of great teams so it’s important for us.”
“I’m still proud of the club for being on this stage at this level. The reality is we’ve got a League-One-in-England-style budget against a multi-international standard Aston Villa. There was a clear gulf in class, I can’t deny that. But the bit that disappointed me was the moments within our control that we didn’t control well enough. For the first couple of goals, we could have done better.”
Villa will come up against more difficult opposition that they have this week in Everton and Hibernian but they still had to be professional.
If we are honest, I don’t think Villa got out of second gear and hopefully they can build on their 9 goals in two games in their next game.
I think in the perfect world, Emery would like to rest a few in the return fixture but injuries in our squad will mean minimal changes.
Aston Villa are back in action, again on the road, this Sunday in the Premier League as they take on newly promoted Burnley.
Hibs will meet with Livingston on Saturday before they head to Villa Park next Thursday for the return leg.