In the last of three special reports on the history of Aston Villa, Neil Connor looks back on the wilderness years of the early 1970s, a new golden era in the early 1980s, and the Premiership instability of recent seasons.

The euphoria of England winning the World Cup quickly evaporated in the claret-and-blue half of Birmingham as Villa found themselves relegated from Division One for a third time in 1967.

The post-mortem saw a number of factors being blamed for Villa's decline, including the fact that they had sold their best players.

Phil Woosnam, an inspirational Wales international left for the USA while Tony Hateley, the club's most consistent scorer, left for Chelsea in the weeks before the 1966-7 season began.

The club had stagnated and failed to grasp the modern aspects of the game, now based on effective scouting and ruthless business deals in the transfer market.

A complete overhaul was needed at the club - and that is exactly what happened over the next few months.

In an attempt to avoid the Villa freefalling into Division Three, more money was thrown at the squad, now under manager Tommy Cummings. But with Villa at the bottom of Division Two by November, the board took the decision to sack him.

The fans, meanwhile, were blaming the ageing board themselves for the problems at Villa Park and, within weeks of Cummings' dismissal, the entire board bowed to terrace pressure and resigned.

London financier Pat Matthews took control of the club in 1968, bringing in Tommy Docherty as manager.

The appointment of Doug Ellis as chairman was met with fury by some fans who opposed a former Birmingham City director taking charge.

The following season saw Docherty sacked. Vic Crowe became manager and immediately attempted to fill the void left by Hateley by signing Andy Lochhead from Leicester for £28,000.

But, with Villa still rooted to the bottom of Division Two in March, they were inevitably relegated to Division Three for the first - and only - time in their history.

Villa finished fourth the following season, but made it to the final of the League Cup after beating the mighty Manchester United in the semi-finals.

However Tottenham Hotspur were too strong for Villa at Wembley.

Nevertheless, Villa's main priority was getting into Division Two and they were promoted as champions in 1972.

Fans were also encouraged by the success of a Brian Little-inspired FA Youth Cupwinning side in the same year.

Villa languished in Division Two, finishing third in 1973 and a disappointing 14th in 1974. Vic Crowe became the second manager to be sacked by Ellis at the end of that season.

Ron Saunders was the next boss at Villa Park and he saw them promoted back to the top flight as runners-up to champions Manchester United in 1975. Villa also achieved the double that year - of sorts. A Ray Graydon goal at Wembley saw Villa lift the League Cup for a second time.

This victory unlocked the door to Europe - which was firmly shut back in Villa's face after Antwerp put Saunders' men out of the UEFA Cup with a 4-1 aggregate scoreline the following season.

After a disappointing first season back in Division One, Villa finished fourth in 1977 and won the League Cup again in their third final in six years.

Villa went out of the UEFA Cup the next year in a 1-0 defeat by Barcelona.

The rebuilding process at Villa intensified in 1979 as £1.3 million was made available from Andy Gray's move to Wolverhampton Wanderers. And after finishing seventh in the 1979-80 season, Villa acquired more fire-power with the signing of Peter Withe from Nottingham Forest for a club record £500,000.

Villa kept level with the leaders Liverpool and Ipswich Town for most of the 1980-1 season and were leading by March.

A point was required from Arsenal at Highbury on the final day of the season to secure the first title for 71 seasons.

The thousands of Villa fans who travelled to the capital experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions as Saunders' men lost 2-0 in a thoroughly depressing display. But, as title challengers Ipswich had lost to Middlesbrough, Villa had clinched the title.

Despite Villa's change of fortunes, halfway through the next season Ron Saunders resigned following a disagreement with the chairman, Ron Bendall.

Saunders' number two, Tony Barton, was installed as manager and weeks after his appointment he oversaw a solid display from Villa in a 0-0 draw with Dynamo Kiev. The Soviet Union champions were defeated 2-0 at Villa Park in the return leg.

Villa then beat Anderlecht through a sole Tony Morley goal in the home leg which set up the biggest night in the club's history - a European Cup Final against German champions Bayern Munich.

Nigel Spink, a 23-year-old substitute, made a dramatic entrance to the final after goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer left the pitch after suffering a cricked neck.

Villa took the game to the Germans but Spink was called into action a number of times before Peter Withe finally broke the deadlock, the centre forward scuffing the ball into the net from a Morley cross in the 67th minute.

Three years after he left the club when he sold his shares to Bendall, Doug Ellis returned to Villa Park weeks before Barton's men beat Barcelona 3-0 in the two-legged European Super Cup.

Barton remained in charge for two underperforming seasons but was sacked at the end of the 1983-84 season.

Villa's decline continued under Graham Turner, who was given two seasons before Ellis' patience ran out again at the start of the 1986-7 season.

Billy McNeill was given the job of turning around Villa's fortunes but was sacked within eight months as his side was relegated to Division Two.

Ellis then acquired the services of Graham Taylor, who signed Alan McInally from Celtic for £225,000 and David Platt from Crewe Alexandra for £200,000.

Villa were promoted as runners-up at the first time of asking and, after a dismal season back in Division One, found the right formula in the 1989-90 campaign.

The catalyst behind Villa's impressive season was the capture of defender Paul McGrath from Manchester United. Villa finished second in the League after being leap-frogged by Liverpool in the closing weeks of the campaign. Over the summer Taylor was plucked by the FA to manage England.

Ellis brought in Dr Josef Venglos - the Czechoslovakian national team coach - as Taylor's replacement. He lasted one season.

Ron Atkinson was appointed as his successor and brought a fast, stylish brand of football to Villa Park.

Dean Saunders and Dalian Atkinson proved to be one the Premiership's most impressive strike partnerships in its opening season.

Atkinson also brought in Earl Barrett, Andy Townsend, Kevin Richardson, Ray Houghton and Shaun Teale to transform Villa into title challengers once again. However, Villa had to settle for second place in the 1992-3 season as Manchester United took the title.

Atkinson wreaked his revenge on his former club when Villa beat United in the League Cup final the following season, thereby preventing the Red Devils securing a historic treble.

Atkinson left in November 1994 after a poor start to the season and was succeeded by fans' favourite Brian Little.

The Little years saw a reasonable level of success at Villa Park, particularly in 1996 when his side finished fourth in the Premiership and won the League Cup 3-0 in a final against Leeds United.

However, many of Little's signings failed to deliver and he left of his own accord (according to Ellis) in 1998.

Villa maintained a presence at the top half of the league under Ellis's next manager, John Gregory.

His team, bolstered by new signings Paul Merson and Dion Dublin, regularly finished respectably behind the league leaders but, even when Villa made the FA Cup final in 2000, no-one ever thought they were capable of winning anything.

Gregory was also spending much of Ellis' cash, so it was perhaps not surprising that the chairman would opt for a manager with a track record of keeping a tight control over the purse strings when he resigned in early 2002.

Graham Taylor was then appointed for a second time and helped the club achieve an eighth place finish.

However, after Villa finished 16th the following season he resigned, probably wishing he'd never made his foray back into football management.

Villa's decline into uncertainty continued with the next manager, David O'Leary.

The Irishman may have considered his team to be unlucky not to have clinched a place in Europe when they finished sixth in 2004 but, in reality, Villa were flattered with a position in the top half of the table.

Villa would finish in mid-table in 2005 and only a few points off relegation last season, which provoked the fans into calling for the heads of both manager and chairman.

The manager left last month, but the chairman - currently - remains.