UEFA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg
Aston Villa 1 FH Hafnarfjordur 1 (agg: 5-2)
In terms of what really matters, Aston Villa made sure of a comfortable passage through to the first round proper of the UEFA Cup.
And whoever Martin O’Neill’s side are drawn against in Geneva on Friday they will undoubtedly provide a sterner test than the part-timers from Iceland, but the visitors emerged with credit for a spirited performance which frustrated their more illustrious hosts.
FH Hafnarfjordur might not be the easiest team name to say and Villa found them equally difficult to play against at Villa Park. Not so much tongue twister as head scratcher for O’Neill as his side laboured to kill off the visitors.
In truth, the tie was won two weeks ago in Reykjavik when Villa romped to a 4-1 victory and as a result, they lacked urgency or any real cutting edge. Even though O’Neill sent out a much-changed side, the expected goal glut just did not materialise. Villa were far too generous in front of goal and Hafnarfjordur goalkeeper Gunnar Sigurdsson had a much more comfortable night then he would have expected.
O’Neill took the opportunity to give some of his fringe players the chance to impress, and Wayne Routledge in particular stood out in the first half. He was Villa’s best outlet down the right flank and time and again he caused the visiting defence problems.
In fact, Villa were in complete control of the game and were stroking the ball around as if it was a training drill. However, that proved to be their problem because for all the chances they created they failed to make Hafnarfjordur keeper Gunnar Sigurdsson make many saves.
In fact, the only save he was made to make before Gardner’s opener was from his own defender, Dennis Siim, who had deflected a Routledge cross goalwards, and after that he did not have his hands stung too much.
Villa must have created around a dozen chances in the first period but their wastefulness was the over riding factor in the game. Routledge, Gardner, Moustapha Salifou and Barry all had opportunities but failed to hit the target.
When they did, Sigurdsson was left helpless as Gardner timed his run into the box to perfection to hammer home Marlon Harewood’s low cross high into the roof of the net.
In contrast, the visitors only had three efforts on goal in the first period and they tested Villa keeper Brad Friedel every single time. The American had to be alert to deny Matthias Gudmundsson in the opening minutes and then Siim in the 25th minute.
Villa did not heed the warning and their wastefulness came back to haunt them five minutes later when Asgeir Asgeirsson’s cross wasn’t dealt with by Friedel and Atli Bjornsson chested down his weak punch and volleyed home the equaliser. Villa Park went silent.
The part time visitors had not read the script and when it became evident that the expected goal glut was not going to materialise, the Villa fans began to grow impatient and there were rumblings as the half came to a close.
Villa continued to dominate possession but without a cutting edge and a higher tempo was what was needed in the second half to finally kill off any lingering hopes from the spirited Icelandic visitors.
Villa did try to show more urgency in the opening minutes of the second period but again failed to trouble Sigurdsson and it was Hafnarfjordur who had the first opportunity of the half when Friedel’s kick was picked up by Asgeirsson but his shot was deflected over the bar.
He then had to make a routine diving save to deny Bjornsson in the 57th minute and Asgeirsson flashed a volley into the side netting at the back post as the visitors grew in confidence.
Harewood finally gave Sigurdsson something to do in the 73rd minute when he wriggled free but the keeper was out quickly to block his shot and substitute Nathan Delfouneso followed up but lashed the rebound wide to continue the theme of the evening.
The Icelandics almost snatched what would have been a memorable victory at the home of the former European Cup winners when Jonas Gardarsson broke through but he fired into the side netting with only Friedel to beat.
Goals: Gardner (27) 1-1; Bjornsson (30) 1-1.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Friedel, Barry, Knight, Davies, Gardner, Reo-Coker, Salifou, Routledge, Osbourne; Harewood, Agbonlahor. Subs: Taylor, Laursen, Young, Carew, Delfouneso, Petrov, Baker.
FH HAFNARFJORDUR (4-4-2): Sigurdsson; Siim; Nielsen; Asgeirsson; Vidarsson; Tryggvi Gudmundsson (Saevarsson 82);Vilhjalmsson; Matthias Gudmundsson; Bjornsson (Gudnason 58); Sverrisson (Gardarsson 85); Valgardsson. Subs not used: Larusson; Eiriksson; Bjarmason; Sverrisson.
Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands)
Bookings: Harewood (40); Valgardsson (45); Delfouneso (72) fouls.