NEC Nijmegen 2 Aston Villa 1
Martin O'Neill saw Aston Villa lose their unbeaten preseason record in Holland last night as the club's new manager finally began his reign, and found there is still work to be done.
It was not to be a dream start for O'Neill as defeat was accompanied by more injury problems with the Premiership season just ten days away.
O'Neill made only a peripheral contribution to Saturday's game in Hannover but was on the touchline for the first time in Nijmegen and the problems soon began to mount with Gary Cahill, Luke Moore and Mark Delaney all coming off injured.
Goals from Patrick Posthuizen and Ferne Snoyl sealed Villa's fate despite Gabby Agbonlahor pulling one back.
Gareth Barry was handed the skipper's armband again after leading Villa at Hanover on Saturday even though Olof Mellberg started with him. Last night though, with O'Neill calling the shots, Mellberg was named as one of the substitutes so it remains to be seen who will be team captain on a permanent basis.
With O'Neill lining up a move for Celtic's Bulgaria midfielder Stlian Petrov in a deal thought to be worth around #5 million, Villa are expected to strengthen before the start of the season.
Despite O'Neill having a tendency to play a 3-5-2 formation, he began with a flat back four. However, Jlloyd Samuel started wide left with striker Moore pushed out on to the opposite flank.
And there was a return up front for Juan-Pablo Angel while Gavin McCann was back after missing the Hannover game.
But all eyes were on Denmark defender Martin Laursen, starting a senior match for the first time in almost a year after a bad knee injury.
O'Neill, who stayed in the stands at the start, had to have a re-think after only ten minutes however when defender Cahill limped off after going down under a heavy challenge. He was replaced by Liam Ridgewell at the heart of the defence.
Villa were soon under pressure and conceded their first goal of the preseason after 23 minutes. NEC, tenth in the Dutch league last season, had Villa in trouble when skipper Peter Wisgerhof's header was tipped over the bar by Stuart Taylor, recalled in place of Thomas Sorensen.
But the danger was not over for O'Neill's side as Edgar Barreto's corner was flicked on by Angel only for Pothuizen to give the Dutch team the lead with a powerful volley.
But Barry, due to meet O'Neill to discuss his future with the club, almost levelled when he was allowed to run at the defence after a one-two with McCann before stabbing in a left-foot effort which goalkeeper Gabor Babos did well to push away.
O'Neill decided to take his place on the bench for the first time with eight minutes of the first half remaining. Laursen impressed for Villa, but the new manager had said he only intended to give him a 45-minute run out.
Villa were still searching for an equaliser and Moore tested Babos from 20 yards but the Villa forward somehow picked up an injury in doing so and limped off.
NEC extended their lead with 22 minutes left. Brett Holman's cross found Ferne Snoyl on the edge of the box and his spectacular finish gave Taylor no chance.
Villa finally found the net when Angel set up Agbonlahor, who has had a good pre-season, and he lashed the ball home from ten yards but Nijmegen should have made it three when Romano Denne-boom fired over from close range.