Villa’s dalliance wih Europe was brought to an abrupt halt last night before it had even really begun when, despite a 2-1 win on the night, Martin O’Neill’s youngsters crashed out in the second leg of their qualifier to visitors Rapid Vienna.
Villa’s failure to qualify for the Europa League proper came despite a 2-1 win on the night and despite the incredible heroics of second choice keeper Brad Guzan whose string of top class saves were not quite enough to stifle the Viennese.
Villa had taken the lead through a James Milner penalty in the 32nd minute after Ashley Young had missed from the same spot and looked to be heading for the hat and the draw for the first round proper after cult hero John Carew reaffirmed his love affair wiht the Villa Park faithful in the 52nd minute with his first goal of the season.
But the home side were never really comfortable and even Guzan’s heroics, in the end, were unable to deny that man Nikica Jelavic whose 74th minute away goal ensured his side the spoils. It was the same man who had broken Villa hearts with a goal in the first leg with his strike after just 17 seconds.
The Rapid star’s goal gave the 2,000 strong “Green-Whites” supporters reason to ensure their support after thta away goal helped their team hold on to the final whistle.
It had all been so different for Villa in the first half despite the threat of the Austrian Bundesliga giantswho really brought the game to their hosts.
The sight of £6 million Steven Warnock being unveiled as a Villa signing before the game had ensured an air of optimism among the home supporters.
But the fans were less enamoured to see Martin O’Neill had chosen to revert to a 4-4-2 formation despite the success of his use of 4-5-1 in Monday’s incredible 3-1 Premier League win over Liverpool at Anfield.
Emile Heskey was back up front with John Carew returning from a virus but there was no place for the heroes of Monday’s win, Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwellwho were both on the bench.
Young midfielder Fabian Delph was recalled to the squad while James Milner and Ashley Young played out wide.
Villa, who are also set to seal a move for Manchester City defender Richard Dunne today, saw their first real chance come in ths eventh minute after Milner found Heskey wide on the left only for the England striker to slice the ball wide with keeper Helge Payer beaten.
In the 21st minute Steffen Hoffman had Villa hearts in mouths however when his long range shot flew just a whisker wide - his effort cheered loudly by the visiting fans who stood stripped and barechested in the stands.
Young and Milner were creating all sorts of chances as the half progressed but Villa just lacked that cutting edge up front with Curtis Davies and Heskey both missing chances.
Then in the 32nd minute Villa had a lifeline after Young was broght down albeit with theatrics by Andreas Dober and referee Velasco Carballo immediately pointed to the spot.
Up stepped the England winger but there was to be no repeat of his cool penalty at Anfield as Payer made an easy save.
Young’s frustration told a minute later when he was booked for an elbow on Hoffman – the Villa star perhaps lucky to escape with a caution.
But then Milner soon atoned for Young’s mistake when given another chance from the spot. His 32nd minute spot-kick was far sweeter after Young was again brought down.
Villa went in at half-time wiht their 1-0 lead bringing things back into contention but almost lost it again in the first minute of the replay – Carlos Cuellar just sharp enough to head clear Hoffman’s certain equaliser.
Milner then set Carew on his way for Villa’ second, the big man once again underlining his cult status with a finely taken goal which saw him turn two defenders before lsotting it cooly past Payer.
Rapid thought they had scored in the 56th minuete when subsitute Stefan Maierhofer outjumped Brad guzan but his header was judged to have been thanks to a foul on the Villa keeper.
But as Villa searched for the goal to put the tie beyond doubt they were caught on the break -Guzan forced to make two increidbel double saves to deny the ever-threatening visitors.
And then even he could not keep out a rebound to the feet of thethta man Jelavic.
Marcus Katzer had tested the American but he was only able to parry ball clear and there was Jelavic to slam the ball home with a half-volley to break Villa hearts and Martin O’Neill’s resolve.
VILLA (4-4-2): Guzan; Beye, Cuellar, Davies (Lowry, 86) , Shorey; Milner, Petrov, Delph (Albrighton, 86), Young; Carew, Heskey (Agbonlahor, 82).
Subs not used: Friedel, Sidwell, Reo-Coker, Gardner.
RAPID VIENNA (4-4-2): Payer; Soma, Katzer, Dober, Patocka; Pehlivan, Heikkinen, Drazan; Jelavic(Boskovic, 87), Trimmel (Maierhofer, 55)