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Nicolo Zaniolo’s first goal for Aston Villa helped them seal their place in the Europa Conference League’s last 16 after a 1-1 draw against Zrinjski Mostar.

Zaniolo gave a much-changed Villa the lead in Bosnia and Herzegovina just after the hour-mark before Matija Malekinusic fired a spectacular equaliser for the hosts in the closing stages.

The point was enough to ensure Villa finished top of Group E ahead of Legia Warsaw to avoid two play-off matches and progress straight into the knockout stages, but it was far from convincing by Unai Emery’s side.

Goalkeeper Filip Marschall was handed his Villa debut and Jacob Ramsey made his first start in five months as Emery made eight changes from Saturday’s win against Arsenal.

Matty Cash, Alex Moreno, Leander Dendoncker, Moussa Diaby, Jhon Duran and Zaniolo also started.

Marschall did well to snuff out a through-ball as Zrinjski looked to put Villa under early pressure, but the former England Under-19 goalkeeper barely touched the ball in an uneventful first half.

Zrinjski, bottom of the group with just one win from their previous five games, showed little ambition in front of a home crowd of around 6,000, while Villa lacked the cohesion to trouble them.

Zaniolo blazed one effort over the crossbar and forced Zrinjski goalkeeper Marko Maric into a rare save.

Villa’s record signing Diaby fluffed his chance when missing the ball completely from Moreno’s cross as Emery’s new-look line-up failed to raise the tempo.

Little changed in the second period and Emery had seen enough after 57 minutes, sending on John McGinn and Lucas Digne for Ramsey and Moreno respectively.

McGinn made an instant impact, injecting some urgency and whipping in a cross for on-loan Galatasaray midfielder Zaniolo to neatly control before tucking the ball under Maric from six yards.

Calum Chambers and Pau Torres replaced Cash and Diego Carlos before Josip Corluka was flagged offside as he fired Zrinjski’s best chance of the match over the crossbar in the 71st minute.

Corluka missed another chance from a corner soon after to remind Villa the job was not yet done.

Duran forced Maric into a save with a first-time angled effort before teenage midfielder Tommy O’Reilly replaced Diaby to make his senior Villa debut a day before his 20th birthday.

Fellow debutant Marschall was almost punished for a howler when his clearance struck Torres but Aldin Hrvanovic failed to keep the rebound on target.

Marschall made amends by racing off his liner to deny Hrvanovic moments later as the Premier League visitors held on to their advantage.

However, Malekinusic punished Villa for not putting the result beyond doubt by thundering home a 25-yard equaliser in the 87th minute, but Emery’s side held on for the point they needed.