It was an evening to shake the head or even cover it in your hands. How we ended up losing it 0-2 is hard to say right now, but our chances of progressing in the Europa League are certainly hanging on a thread.
We may have been weakened by injuries and suspensions but we went into our ninth Europa League knockout stage brimming with courage. We had to come together to defend against a Spanish side capable of playing great football. Villarreal dominated the opening five minutes before giving us some time in charge but it remained a cagey opening.
Both teams were looking pretty solid, you could say. We were able to threaten on the break a little and the visitors' full-backs, Estupinan and Pena, caused a bit of trouble. 27 minutes had passed when Rasmus Kristensen barged into a challenge into the area. A penalty was given and up stepped Paco Alcacer. The striker stroked the ball into Cican Stankovic's hands, and the relief was palpable!
The luck was on the Submarinos' side after 39 minutes though as Enock Mwepu pinched the ball with the goalkeeper Asenjo stranded. The Zambian tried an elegant chip that just missed the target. Over at the other end, Paco Alcacer had no trouble finding the net with a short-range header from a set piece (41'). It was a disappointing end to the first half for us, even if we could have no big complaints about the scoreline.
The Submarinos were suddenly more conservative after the break as they sought to preserve their lead and take their first win in six matches. We seized the initiative and posed plenty of problems. Pau Torres, who otherwise was faultless, allowed Patson Daka to nick the ball from him in his own area. Daka played a super little ball across to Mergim Berisha, who was standing free at the far post, but he scuffed his shot.
We kept on finding the spaces and the opportunities though. Brenden Aaronson just couldn't quite get to a Mergim Berisha ball in. Unai Emery's side seemed a little rattled. More chances duly came to Patson Daka and substitute Noah Okafor. All of a sudden, Villarreal pounced in our period of pressure. We had nine men in the penalty area checking four opponents, but somehow Fer Nino was allowed to place a free header inside the far post (71').
We kept on playing forward despite that blow. Karim Adeyemi had a good penalty shout, but nothing came of it. Patson Daka had a chance to pull a goal back in stoppage time, but he hit the ball into the post. It just wasn't meant to be.
We played against opponents who were very clever and made few mistakes. On the other hand, we made a few of the kind of mistakes that young teams tend to make. We have to fly to Spain now and perform better if we can.
I am very satisfied. We didn't have much luck in our recent matches, and we got that back today. Salzburg competed well, even if we had the better end. We know that it isn't over yet.
Adeyemi for Aaronson (61'), Okafor for Sucic (61'), Bernede for Junuzovic (74')
Kristensen (27' foul), Solet (40' foul), Okafor (89' foul), Ulmer (90+5' unsporting behaviour)
not available for action
Bernardo (ligament), Wöber (thigh), Ramalho (suspended), Koita and Camara (doping suspension)