Aston Villa were dumped out of the Europa League after a disappointing performance in the final play-off against Rapid Vienna.
Gabriel Agbonlahor scored on his return to the side within twenty minutes but Vienna striker Atdhe Nuhiu headed home after half-time to level the scores, both on the night and on aggregate.
Stiliyan Petrov wasted a great opportunity to regain control for Villa when the midfielder missed a penalty with half-an-hour to go, but a rare Emile Heskey goal put them back in front.
In an exciting finish, though, the Austrian side scored twice within three minutes to reach the Europa League.
After earning a draw in Austria last week, caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald chose to go with a more experienced side to that from the first leg. Stephen Ireland made his European debut for Villa after a disappointing Premier League debut against Newcastle at the weekend. Villa were outclassed and thumped 6-0 by the newly-promoted side and MacDonald clearly thought that he needed to field his best team against Austria’s most successful side.
Vienna’s star men from the first leg were Steffen Hofmann and Nuhiu and both players were present for the game at Villa Park with captain Hofmann playing behind the lone striker.
As Villa continue life without an appointed manager, after Martin O’Neil left just days before the start of the Premier League season, the Midlands club may find this season an unpredictable one as clubs around them in the League have strengthened well, whereas Villa, and owner Randy Lerner, have been very shrewd in their business this summer. This game, then, was hugely important to Aston Villa as they looked to put the weekend behind them and push on with their season.
Much like last week’s encounter, the game had a dreary, slow start. There were few chances in the first half, with a Collins header going wide with sixteen minutes on the clock. An Ashley Young free kick was then well saved after the English midfielder fired a shot towards goal from twenty-five yards and it was Young who created the first goal of the game.
On an awfully wet pitch Young breezed past Rapid left-back Markus Katzer and put in a low cross which was met by Agbonlahor, who finished off accordingly. The goal was the forward’s first strike of the season but his game was ended earlier than expected as the striker was forced to come off with an injury just before half-time. Starlet Marc Albrighton was brought on, meaning that Emile Heskey had to play up front on his own, with Young and the young substitute on the flanks.
Albrighton has shown great promise with recent performances in the first team for Villa and the English midfielder, who has been called up to Stuart Pearce’s England Under-21 side recently, started brightly with a great run, darting in-and-out and skipping past various players. The former Villa youth player, though, could only manage a poor shot at the end of a promising run.
Villa seemed to be in control of the match but, within six minutes of the second half, the nightmares of last season seemed to be resurrecting themselves. Rapid dumped Villa out of the same competition at the same time last year and so, when Nuhiu headed home from five yards, the Villa faithful feared the worst. Poor defending by Habib Beye, who was playing in an unusual left-back position, let Veli Kavlak in to hit a great cross into the area, which was met by the powerful Nuhiu.
Villa lacked real authority in midfield with Nigel Reo-Coker and Ireland failing to run the centre of the pitch. Ireland was the creative spark for Villa on occasions but Reo-Coker really should have scored on the hour mark after a Heskey cross had, eventually, fallen to the former West Ham midfielder. Reo-Coker couldn’t re-adjust his feet, though, and the ball rolled past the post.
Heskey has been something of a scapegoat in the last few seasons, with the main criticism being his lack of goals. The striker, who has retired from England duty after a poor World Cup, was brought down in the area by Mario Sonnleitner, giving Petrov the chance to score from the spot. The former Celtic midfielder hit a poor penalty which was then followed up by a shocking miss from Heskey, who hit the ball into the ground and over.
Heskey, though, made amends soon after. After a cross was cleared by the Rapid defence the ball fell to Beye who, from twenty-five yards, took a crack at goal. The shot seemed to be going wide but Heskey got his big frame in front of the ball and managed to bend his body to chest the ball into the net. The goal should have secured Villa’s progression into the Europa League, but the English side did not manage to settle after the celebrations.
A Rapid corner was flicked on Sonnleitner stooped down to header the ball towards goal. The shot was saved by Brad Guzan but somehow trickled into the net and the goal meant that, if the score remained as it was, Rapid would go through on away goals.
Vienna did not sit back, however, and two minutes later, with ten minutes left, substitute Rene Gartler finished off a swift, flowing move, tapping in from two yards.
Villa can have no complaints about their departure from the tournament; MacDonald put out a perfectly good side yet the players simply did not perform. The Villains will now have to concentrate on the Premier League and other cup competitions, while Lerner will be looking to install a new manager relatively soon.
Aston Villa 2 – 3 Rapid Vienna
Agbonlahor 21 Nuhiu 51
Heskey 76 Sonnleitner 78