UEFA Cup, First Round 2nd Leg: Aston Villa 1 Litex Lovech 1 (agg: 4-2)
There may be few financial transactions worth the paper they are written on in the current credit crisis but Aston Villa will want to get their biggest deal of the year and a new contract for Ashley Young sorted imminently. His market value must be increasing dramatically with every game he plays.
Young was once again instrumental, not only in Villa’s solitary goal as Martin O’Neill’s side sauntered through to the Uefa Cup group stages, but also the main provider of much of the flair and panache which set the home side apart from their Eastern European visitors.
Litex, just as they had shown over the first 45 minutes at home, were no pushover. A second-half strike from Wilfred Niflor from the penalty spot after a late challenge from Carlos Cuellar on Litex’s Brazilian Tom cancelled out a dream goal from Marlon Harewood – the Villa striker’s first for the club since his contribution in Villa’s 6-0 demolition of Derby County last April.
O’Neill had made six changes from the side, unchanged in all six Barclays Premier League games so far this season, and his “carrot” to his squad players to impress him ahead of Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge did not go unheeded.
In came Cuellar and Zat Knight for central defenders Martin Laursen, who was on the bench, and Curtis Davies with Wayne Routledge and Moustapha Salifou in midfield for Nigel Reo-Coker and the rested Gareth Barry. Harewood and James Milner also started for John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Villa’s own Bulgarian,Stiliyan Petrov, man of the match in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Sunderland, was awarded the captain’s armband in the absence of Laursen, Reo-Coker and Barry.
Young, who is tipped to have finally won Fabio Capello over and is mooted to be in the England senior squad for the forthcoming game with Kazakhstan, was on fire from the off and set up Harewood with an early decent chance.
Routledge did well on the wing to keep the ball in play and dug out Young who in turn found Harewood only for the big striker to see his half-volley fly just wide of Lovech keeper Todor Todorov’s upright.
Tom, buoyed by a noisy 200-strong visiting contingent, then wove his way through only to run into Knight before Harewood was again in a shooting position. Milner slotted his team-mate through, but just as he did against Queens Park Rangers in the Carling Cup, the former West Ham United man could not bury his chance.
Young was busy again moments later finding the advancing Cuellar. The former Rangers man managed to head the ball down to Salifou, whose neat shot missed the bar by a whisker.
After Knight had squandered the chance to head Villa into the lead, Villa finally got the break they had been pressing for.
In the 27th minute a speculative punt from keeper Brad Friedel found Young in space. He deftly headed the ball down to the feet of Harewood, who has had far easier chances than this.
But Villa’s impact player of last season used his upper body strength to keep Barthe at bay and slid the ball home from the tightest of angles.
The goal seemed to have restored Harewood’s confidence and now the man in the red boots became more and more involved in the action, firing a low slung shot in the 33rd minute which flew just wide of Todorov’s goal.
Just six minutes before half-time, Young again did all the hard work only to see his final effort fly wide.
The second half saw the visitors looking for a way back and Knight was forced to make a telling clearance from Berberovic. The Bulgarian midfielder then tested Friedel with a long-range effort.
And then Litex had their chance of a consolation after Tom was felled by Cuellar on the penalty area. The French referee saw the late challenge and pointed to the spot from where Niflor duly obliged.
Young could have provided Harewood with Villa’s second on 70 minutes, scooping the ball up on his instep to the advancing Harewood but this time the striker was unable to get a decent connection with the ball.
In the dying minutes Young – who else – almost gave Villa another goal when Salifou chipped the ball in. The former Watford youngster hooked the ball goalwards with his left foot only to be denied by the woodwork.
Scorers: Harewood (27) 1-0, Niflor (pen, 53) 1-1.
Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel, L Young, Cuellar, Knight, Shorey, Routledge, A Young (Osbourne, 84), Petrov, Salifou, Milner, Harewood. Substitutes: Guzan, Laursen, Agbonlahor, Delfouneso, Reo-Coker, Gardner.
Litex Lovech (4-1-4-1): Todorov, Manolev, Barthe, Nikolov (Tzvetanov, 45), Zanec, Berberovic, Tom (Angelov, 78 ) Sandrino, Popov (Du Bala, 85) , Dudu, Niflor. Substitutes: Golubovich, Asedo, Bibishkov, Tsvetkov.
Referee: T Chapron (France).
Bookings: Litex – Popov, Zanev (both fouls).