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Ajax 0-0 Aston Villa: Ezri Konsa sees red as Unai Emery's side battle to first-leg stalemate in Amsterdam

Match report as Aston Villa battled to a goalless draw in Amsterdam; Ezri Konsa was sent off for two bookable offences, before Ajax full-back Tristan Gooijer suffered the same fate; neither player will feature in next Thursday's return leg, which will be played at Villa Park

Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa gestures after being shown a red card by Albanian referee Enea Jorgji
Image: Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa gestures after being shown a red card by Albanian referee Enea Jorgji

Ten-player Aston Villa held out for a 0-0 draw against a relatively young, inexperienced Ajax side at the Johan Cruyff Arena, who were also reduced to 10 late on.

Ahead of next week's decisive return leg at Villa Park, Unai Emery's side exercised caution, clearly keen to enter the second leg in more familiar surroundings on an even footing. The hosts, meanwhile, applied a more attacking approach, spearheaded by tricky forward Brian Brobbey, and were far more willing to pursue an advantage to take to the Midlands.

Ajax, four-time European winners, fielded an XI containing nine starters under the age of 23, including Brobbey, who had the best chance of an uneventful first period when sprinting away from Ezri Konsa before spooning his effort into the side-netting.

The second period improved after the introduction of Matty Cash, Leon Bailey and John McGinn, restoring Villa close to full strength, but it was Ajax's Kenneth Taylor who came closest to a breakthrough, producing a smart low stop from Emi Martinez midway through the half.

Aston Villa's Youri Tielemans, front, battles for the ball with Ajax's Sivert Mannsverk
Image: Aston Villa's Youri Tielemans, front, battles for the ball with Ajax's Sivert Mannsverk

Substitute Chuba Akpom also went close before tussling with Konsa and drawing a foul, with the latter receiving his marching orders for a second bookable offence - he will miss next Thursday's second leg as a result.

The game became more frenzied late on but Villa, Europa Conference League favourites, barely lay a glove, before Ajax full-back Tristan Gooijer also fell foul of Albanian referee Enea Jorgji and was dismissed four minutes before the end.

How Villa survived Ajax scare

Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa, left, is shown a red card for a second bookable offence
Image: Aston Villa's Ezri Konsa, left, is shown a red card for a second bookable offence

You sense the home leg will be entirely different, with an emphasis on improving supply lines into talisman Ollie Watkins, who was a relative bystander throughout a timid 90 minutes in Amsterdam.

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Villa were careful and cautious. They were barely willing to progress the ball over halfway in the first period, although that improved after the break when Emery introduced Bailey and McGinn.

Clearly the Spaniard has priorities to juggle. Villa host Tottenham on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, before Ajax travel to their Birmingham home four days later - an arena they tend to dominate. This period is decisive, and so choosing to favour pragmatism almost makes sense.

Except this Ajax are a far cry from the side who compete regularly for Eredivisie titles - currently fifth in the Dutch top flight - and were beaten twice by Brighton in the group stage of the Europa League, before being relegated to the Europa Conference League.

Ajax's Chuba Akpom, misses a second-half chance
Image: Ajax's Chuba Akpom, misses a second-half chance

Villa produced no chances of note, but were reliant on Martinez to keep them level in the 68th minute as he saved Taylor's effort from Borna Sosa's pull back - the best opening of an otherwise dull affair.

The visitors managed to see out the remainder of the game unscathed, although Emery will be unhappy to have lost Konsa under such needless circumstances.

Improvements will be required at Villa Park in a week's time to prove the superiority over their Dutch counterparts runs deeper than the bookmaker's odds, with Ajax clearly rejuvenated since the permanent appointment of John van 't Schip in October.

Emery: My players had doubts

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery speaking on TNT sports:

"I told the players before the match, it's a very difficult place to play. The atmosphere they create here, the fans, it's hard. We didn't play well, we didn't control the game, our possession was not good.

"They deserve more chances than us, but we were planning to play 90 minutes today and then to take in our mind the next 90 minutes. Taking here a good result is better. The players were here with some doubt.

"We're playing in Europe, so we'll have to try to do things better. We have to focus clearly on the difficulties we're going to face. We did a plan before the match but I wasn't happy with the [lack of] control.

"For me now it's very important this result is open for next week and now we will try to do something different and try to respect them, because now we know them better."

What's next for Ajax and Aston Villa?

Live Super Sunday

Ajax host Fortuna Stittard in the Eredivisie on Sunday ahead of next Thursday's second leg at Villa Park; kick-off 1.30pm.

Aston Villa face Champions League-chasing rivals Tottenham at Villa Park on Sunday, live on Sky Sports from 12pm; kick-off 1pm.

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