InterToto Cup: Odense BK 2 Aston Villa 2
The word-perfect chants the Odense terrace wags used to taunt their Villa counterparts in English epitomised just how much of a match the Danes were for Aston Villa.
It was not only in the stands where the home side had an appreciation and understanding of their opponents as the Danish underdogs played Villa at their own game.
Odense’s football might not have been as fluent as the Fionia Park fans’ English or their grasp of our soccer supporters’ sense of humour, but it was just as effective.
The fast, furious, physical approach of Odense could have been made in Birmingham rather than the home of Hans Christian Andersen, such was its ‘Englishness’.
Not that the methods and subsequent success of Lars Olsen’s Superligaen team should come as a surprise to anybody who has ever witnessed Villa’s temporary captain Martin Laursen in action.
If one of Danish finest football exports can become one of the most typically ‘British’ centre-halves in England then it’s hardly a revelation that the Danes’ own clubs can reproduce the football from these shores.
It seemed as if the night would belong to Villa’s very own Scandinavians with Norwegian John Carew and then Laursen himself twice giving the claret and blues the lead.
However, if any of the travelling contingent of 500 fans truly believed it would be enough for a first-leg advantage then they reckoned against Odense’s powers of recovery.
Carew’s seventh-minute strike, a poacher’s finish from six yards following a half-saved Ashley Young volley, had gone some way to silencing the multi-lingual home fans.
Not for long. A fluke deflection off the shins of Steve Sidwell midway through the opening period gave Odense a renewed belief which remained with them until the very last minute of the match. Sidwell could consider himself extremely unfortunate.
Whereas many midfielders would have neither the energy nor the inclination to track back and defend, the former Chelsea man’s momentum prevented him getting out of the way of Atle Haaland’s left-wing cross through a crowd of legs.
More disappointing than the freak concession was the demoralising effect it had on Sidwell and his team-mates, who up until then had been setting the tone in all areas of the pitch.
Odense, on the other hand, were inspired by their lucky leveller and by the introduction of a player regarded as a figure of fun during the rare occasions he pulled on an Villa or Manchester United shirt.
Eric Djemba Djemba was declared financially bankrupt by the Birmingham courts and bankrupt of any discernible ability by the Birmingham public during his anti-climactic stay in the Second City.
Having re-appeared in Denmark last week, via a short spell in Qatar, the Cameroon midfielder put in a convincing performance after coming on as a substitute midway through the first half.
Djemba Djemba, hailed as some sort of saviour by the Danes before the match, was influential as Odense seized control of the tie for the final hour.
They dominated in terms of territory and possession with their best spell of pressure resulting in three quickfire chances at the start of the second half.
Villa keeper Stuart Taylor saved smartly from Johan Absalonsen and Baye Djiby Fall, but when he punched weakly at the subsequent corner, Craig Gardner had to take decisive action to clear Andreason’s header off the line.
Having wasted a first-half chance, Gabriel Agbonlahor ruined a rare moment of respite for Villa after the interval by failing to pass to a perfectly-placed Carew.
It seemed to matter little when Laursen, handed the honour of the captaining Villa in his homeland, got in front of the keeper to head in Young’s 76th-minute free-kick.
Had a similar chance not been saved by Odense number one Arkadiusz Onyszko in the closing stages Villa would already have one foot in the UEFA Cup qualifying round.
As it is, Anders Moller Christiansen’s 90th- minute equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game should raise the stakes and get the Villa followers practising their Danish ditties for Saturday’s return leg.
Scorers: Carew (7) 0-1; Sidwell (25 og) 1-1; Laursen (76) 1-2; Christensen (90) 2-2.
Odense BK (4-4-2): Onyszko, Haaland, Sorensen, Christensen, Helveg; Andreasen, Esben Hansen (Djemba-Djemba, 27), Henrik Hansen, Absalonsen; Runstrom (Bolanos, 78), Fall. Subs: Lindegaard, Ruud, Troest, Nielsen, Bisgaard.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Taylor, Gardner, Laursen, Knight, Bouma; Petrov, Reo-Coker, Sidwell (Routledge, 82), Young; Agbonlahor, Carew. Subs: Parish, Harewood, Salifou, Osbourne, Maloney, Baker.
Referee: Andrea De Marco (Italy).
Bookings: Odense – Christensen; Villa – Carew, Young.