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Villa brush aside Ajax to reach Europa Conference League quarters

A dominant second-half display gave Aston Villa a 4-0 home win against Ajax on Thursday, booking a spot for Unai Emery’s side in the quarter-finals of the Europa Conference League.

Five minutes before limping off injured, Ollie Watkins headed Villa into a first-half lead and Leon Bailey, Jhon Duran and Moussa Diaby then tied up the match as Villa ran rampant in the second half against 10-men Ajax.

After a goalless first leg in Amsterdam last week, the two teams started the match showing more physicality than inventiveness and both picked up yellow cards in the first 15 minutes.

Watkins then got himself into the book three minutes later with a late tackle on goalkeeper Diant Ramaj that left the England striker needing treatment on the sidelines.

Watkins showed no signs of lingering damage on 25 minutes when he rose unchallenged at the near post from Douglas Luiz’s corner and glanced a header into the far corner.

But he was soon forced from the pitch, succumbing to the hurt picked up inside the opening 20 minutes.

Villa looked the more likely of the two to score in the second half and Bailey duly doubled the hosts lead on the hour mark.

Luiz laid the ball off to Bailey and the Jamaican stood up Jorrel Hato in the box with a couple of step-overs before rolling the ball past the ‘keeper.

The match was over as a contest when midfielder Sivert Mannsverk picked up a second yellow 24 minutes from time, Ajax’s second red of the tie after Tristan Gooijer in the first leg.

Duran hammered home Villa’s third via the crossbar in the 75th minute and Diaby completed the rout six minutes later with a confident left-footed finish as Ajax’s defence crumbled.

PAOK, Fiorentina advance

PAOK put on a sensational performance in Greece to beat Dinamo Zagreb 5-1 on the night, overturning a two-goal deficit from the first leg.

Baba Rahman and Brandon Llamas struck either side of a Petar Sucic own-goal to give the hosts a 3-2 aggregate lead at half-time.

Arber Hoxha levelled matters for Zagreb four minutes into the second half but goals from Konstantinos Koulierakis and Andrija Zivkovic in the last 20 minutes gave PAOK an impressive 5-3 win over both legs.

Fiorentina edged out Maccabi Haifa 5-4 on aggregate, following a 1-1 second-leg draw in Tuscany that did not quite have the entertainment value of last week’s seven-goal thriller.

Union Saint-Gilloise earned a win their fans will remember at Fenerbahce but Mathias Rasmussen’s single goal on the night could not wipe out the Turkish side’s three-goal lead from the first leg.

Fellow Belgians Club Brugge did manage to come from behind, however, winning 3-0 at home against Molde to progress 4-2 on aggregate.

Lille drew 1-1 with Austrian visitors Sturm Graz but progressed with ease after their 3-0 win in the first leg.

Following a second goalless match, Viktoria Plzen overcame visitors Servette 3-1 on penalties to progress to the Europa Conference League quarter-finals.

Maccabi Tel Aviv and Olympiakos have gone to extra-time after the Greeks improbably overcame a 4-1 defeat in the first leg and equalled the score away from home.

The draw for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will take place on March 15 at Nyon, Switzerland.

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