Club Focus – Aston Villa – Crucial away goal ends Villa’s European campaign

After 75 minutes of football at Villa Park, Martin O’Neill’s men were 2-0 up – 2-1 on aggregate – and were looking good value for their lead. However, a late away goal by Rapid Vienna would have been enough to knock Villa out – and it did.

A half capacity Villa Park crowd watched their team take control of the game from the very early stages. Whilst they enjoyed the majority of the possession, the Villa attack failed to create any chances on goal. Nevertheless, a stroke of fortune saw the Villans win two penalties – one missed by Ashley Young and one scored by James Milner. After the interval, Martin O’Neill would have hoped for his side to push for another goal. Yet, it was Vienna who in fact started off the liveliest and would have scored an early away goal if it was not for Carlos Cuellar’s headed clearance off the line. Just as they did at Anfield, they looked dangerous on the counter attack from then on and Carew marked his return with a goal on 53 minutes. The growing confidence in the Villa attack showed as they had many opportunities to kill the tie – but not one of them was capitalised on.

In the end, it was Villa’s biggest frailty that came back to haunt them – the defence. Nikica Jelavic – scorer of the only goal in the first leg – took advantage of poor marking to score the vital away goal that would eventually end Villa’s Europa League campaign before it could even take off. So what happened? This time, Martin O’Neill purposely ensured that he sent out a full strength squad in order to avoid a repeat of the last campaign, when a weak Villa side crashed out of the UEFA Cup against CSKA Moscow.

Starting Line Up Against Rapid Vienna

22 Guzan

23 Beye – 15 Davies – 24 Cuellar – 21 Shorey

8 Milner – 16 Delph – 19 Petrov – 7 Young

18 Heskey – 10 Carew

With Carew back into the squad, O’Neill was able to play his preferred 4-4-2 formation with Heskey and Carew as out and out forwards. The positives of this were seen predominantly in the second half as the Villans probed for a third goal to make sure that the game was well and truly won. Even the choice to replace Reo-Coker with Delph did not backfire as the newly signed midfield had his best performance yet nearly netting for Villa. However in the end it was weak defending and slight misfortune that saw the Villans crash out of the UEFA Europa League. The question now is whether or not Villa should see the exit as a positive or negative thing. For instance, on the plus side, the Villans will be able to fully concentrate on their Premier League season. Without midweek matches in Europe, the Villa squad – small on numbers as it is – will avoid becoming fatigued as the season progresses. On the other hand, however, with Villa unlikely to get anything more than a top five finish and many fans might see this result ruining their season already. Even though there will be no silverware in a European Cup, Villa still have good chances in the League Cup and the FA Cup and it will be interesting to see how the Villans approach these competitions after their European heartache.

The exit will definitely be a major blow to the morale in the Villa dressing room but the Villans must bounce back and look at the positives of the performance. Martin O’Neill’s side did in fact win the game in a convincing fashion. The possession play in the midfield was excellent however, in the future the squad must work on creating more chances for the forwards. The defence has to be a lot more consistent at the back. With the signing of left back, Stephen Warnock from Blackburn Rovers completed, Villa are poised to sign Manchester City’s captain, Richard Dunne to further reinforce the defence. Dunne will be probably one of O’Neill’s most important signings of the summer if the deal is successful. Dunne would provide some much needed stability and experience at the back and could fill the large gap left my Martin Laursen. However, with the prospect of European football shattered for Dunne, it will be interesting to see if his threatened position at City will prove to be the overriding factor if he signs for the Villans.

Aston Villa Club Focus

Can Villa handle the pressure? – August 5
Pre-season promises much for Europa League -August 12
Impotent Villa need to regroup – August 18
Improving Villa lack creativity upfront – August 22
Martin O’Neill’s men answer their critics – August 25
Crucial away goal ends Villa’s European campaign – August 28

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