Aston Villa managed a draw against Rapid Vienna in a Europa League play-off as they continued life without Martin O’Neil.
An early goal from youngster Barry Bannan had put Villa in front but Rapid striker Nuhiu equalised with a deft touch.
After O’Neil’s timely departure from Villa Park the Midlands side will have been happy with a 3-0 win over a woeful West Ham United at the weekend. Caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald chose to ring the changes for this match, with only three players retaining their place in the first eleven from the game against the Hammers. Left-back Eric Lichaj and central midfielder Jonathan Hogg made their debuts, while Nigel Reo-Coker, Marc Albrighton and Curtis Davies getting chances to show their worth. MacDonald was clearly looking towards the game at the weekend, Newcastle, when he picked this side as many key players, such as Ashley Young, John Carew and Luke Young were all left out.
Austria’s most successful side defeated Villa this time last season and fielded a strong side with manager Peter Pacult deciding to play two defensive midfielders and three attacking midfielders, who swapped and changed when supporting lone striker Hamdi Salihi.
Despite the lack of experience in the Villa side the Premier League club started well and the deadlock was broken within ten minutes. Albrighton, who has impressed with some good first team appearances recently, stormed down the wing after neat play by Emile Heskey, who started up front on his own. Albrighton breezed past Rapid left-back Markus Katzer, putting the Austrian on the floor. His ball across the box was met by Barry Bannan in the middle, who tapped in from two yards to score his first goal for Villa.
Villa were never really in control of the game and Vienna should have equalised just before the twenty minute mark. After a Thomas Hinum shot was deflected wide Steffen Hofmann put in a corner which landed on Nuhiu’s head perfectly. The striker, though, could head wide, with plenty of time and space available.
The forward, though, made up for his earlier miss with a goal. A Hofmann cross was dealt with poorly by the Villa defence and, after a slight flick from Salihi, the ball bounced into the net, past a hapless Brad Guzan in goal. Nuhiu was the man at the back post and he was given the goal for the slightest of touches. Habib Beye, Lichaj and Davies should have coped with the cross better.
Hofmann was proving to be a thorn in Aston Villa’s side and the Rapid captain volleyed wide after an attempted Davies clearance and, just before half time, the German had a free kick saved by Guzan. The sides went into half time level and neither side really deserved any sort of lead.
The second half was very tight, lacking any real chances. Villa did attempt to change the game by bringing on promising young player Nathan Delfouneso for goal scorer Bannan but the game had well-and-truly thinned out. A draw away in Austria is a good result for Villa and the away goal could prove important. If they play their first team at Villa Park, though, they should beat Vienna based on tonight’s performance.
Rapid Vienna 1 – 1 Aston Villa
Nuhiu 32 Bannan 11