FC Zurich 2 Aston Villa 1
Martin O’Neill was quick to accentuate the positives after seeing Aston Villa slip to a deserved defeat. But the Irishman will be left in little doubt that with just Monday night’s friendly in Lincoln ahead of them, there is plenty to be done on the training ground ahead of the InterToto Cup tie against Odense Boldklub this Sunday.
Villa enjoyed the lion’s share of proceedings before the half-time interval and recovered well from going a goal behind early on, a penalty converted by Almen Abdi after a foul by captain Martin Laursen.
Gabriel Agbonlahor scored a well-taken equaliser but Villa were well off the pace after a flurry of substitutions and could have fallen to a heavier defeat.
It did not help that a makeshift right-back in Craig Gardner was then asked to become a makeshift left-back from the latter stages of the first half due to an injury to teenager Nathan Baker. And so a defeat it eventually was, when Abdi converted his second spot-kick of the game late on after a clumsy challenge by Zat Knight.
Yet O’Neill was far from downbeat, pointing out that indeed the Swiss side, whom Villa hope to join in this season’s UEFA Cup, had already played six pre-season matches and were therefore markedly fitter than their visitors.
“I was very pleased with the game. We’re only ten days into pre-season so I won’t get too concerned with the result”, O’Neill said. “Overall, I thought we were a wee bit untidy and we can improve vastly on that performance but you have to remember that we’re changing the team around, with lots of substitutions and this is what pre-season is like.
“I think that was Zurich’s seventh game ,so they’re pretty fit. Their season’s just upon them so it was a great workout but we’re still pretty rusty.”
It was a far tougher workout than against FC Wil, 48 hours previously, when Villa scored six goals and missed just as many good chances.
“The Intertoto Cup will soon be upon us and we’re trying to get into competitive mode very early on so it was important that we were able to step up the quality of the opposition”, continued the Villa boss.
O’Neill wasted no time in handing a 45-minute run-out to new signing Steve Sidwell, who had arrived in Switzerland on Friday evening.
Afterwards, the former Chelsea midfielder admitted that it was a tough baptism. “It was a hard work-out, and it wasn’t the best of games. We were disappointed with how we played- especially in the first half”, he said. “We looked tired and jaded but as the game wore on we got better. For me personally, I managed to get 45 minutes under my belt. That’s my first football for probably seven or eight weeks and there is a lot to improve on.”
Sidwell is likely to be joined very quickly by more new arrivals in what promises to be a busy fortnight for O’Neill and chairman Randy Lerner as Liverpool continue to keep them dallying over the long-term future of Gareth Barry.
“It’s a small squad at the minute and the gaffer is trying his hardest to improve that,” continued Sidwell. “We’ll wait on that but for the moment I will enjoy working here. My signing for Villa was a long drawn-out saga in the end but I now want to do my talking on the pitch.”
The agreement of a fee for goalkeeper Brad Guzan had been announced on Saturday morning, although the club still face a problem in convincing an employment tribunal that the American deserves a work permit to play in England after seeing an appeal rejected only six months ago.
O’Neill, though, appears confident that their case will gain a favourable response this time around. Guzan has appeared in a number of matches for the United States in recent months, including the end-of-season friendly against England at Wembley in May, when he spoke of his hopes of securing a move to Villa.
“As everyone knows, we chased him last January and were hopeful at the tribunal for the work permit and it was narrowly defeated”, O’Neill said.
“Since then he has played quite a number of games for the USA, not only in friendly matches but also in competitive games. His position would have improved immensely so we are very hopeful.”
O’Neill was also linked to Lorient’s 27-year-old French midfielder Nicolas Marin over the weekend and hopes to be able to progress a number of other transfers.He added: “We have a number of players that we would like to bring to the club- and that is what we are progressing.”
FC ZURICH (4-1-3-2): Leoni; Stahel, Barmettler, Tihinen, Rochat; Aegerter; Nikci (Ladner,79), Okonkwo, Djuric (Stucki,65); Abdi (Buchel,88), Hassli (Mehmedi,71). Subs: Guatelli, Koch, Alphonse, Staubli, Schonbachler, Chikhaoui, Lampi, Tahirovic, Vasquez, Vargara, Silvio, Konde, Lattmann.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Taylor; Gardner, Knight, Laursen, Baker (Osbourne,43); Routledge, (Young,h/t), Reo-Coker (Albrighton,90), Sidwell (Salifou,h/t), Maloney (Petrov, h/t); Harewood (Carew,h/t), Agbonlahor (Delfouneso,72). Subs: Parish, Williams, Stieber.