Bannan goal justifies MacDonald's gamble on Villa youngsters
Rapid Vienna 1 Aston Villa 1
Aston Villa caretaker-manager Kevin MacDonald staked another claim for becoming boss on a permanent basis as his young side soaked up the pressure on an intimidating European night.
A year ago predecessor Martin O'Neill's side suffered a 1-0 defeat to Rapid Vienna in the first leg of their Europa League play-off, ultimately heading out of the competition on the away-goals rule.
But Villa now have a firm chance to avenge that exit after a 1-1 first-leg draw at the same stage at the Gerhard Hanappi Stadium, with 20-year-old Barry Bannan scoring the precious away goal.
Although Rapid managed to grab an equaliser and dominated for most of the game, the result under MacDonald was certainly far better and more encouraging than the one mustered under O'Neill.
MacDonald did gamble, though, resting Ashley Young and influential captain Stylian Petrov, but then he was also without the suspended Richard Dunne, along with the injured John Carew, Carlos Cuellar and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
MacDonald came into the game aware of the criticism levelled at O'Neill for fielding weakened teams in Europe in the past, and as the man now in charge he was prepared to suffer the consequences.
But after 12 minutes his young charges fully justified his faith as their energy and enthusiasm put Rapid on the backfoot.
Marc Albrighton, a star of Saturday's 3-0 season-opening victory at home to West Ham, found himself in good company with the likes of Bannan, Eric Lichaj and Jonathan Hogg, the latter duo making their debuts.
In coaching the players in the reserves, MacDonald was not afraid to give them their head in such an imposing cauldron as the noise from the Rapid was constant from start to finish.
The 17,000-strong crowd undoubtedly made their presence felt, even after conceding the opener when many would have been silenced.
It was a deserved goal, though, and perhaps a sign of things to come at Villa Park should the 49-year-old MacDonald be handed the full-time role.
Albrighton was the instigator, superbly turning inside left-back Markus Katzer and leaving him on the seat of his shorts before delivering a low cross into the six-yard box.
Bannan, who had already gone close earlier with an edge-of-the-area left-foot shot, was left with an open goal and made no mistake in tapping home from four yards for his first goal for the club.
In the exchanges that followed a Villa side showing only three survivors from the team that defeated the Hammers in Albrighton, Stewart Downing and Stephen Warnock, looked comfortable.
But under the leadership of Nigel Reo-Coker, making his first start since January 2, Villa slowly started to retreat inside their own half, barely putting pressure on the opposition as they had done earlier.
It allowed Rapid's players, potentially reeling from the decision of star striker Nikica Jelavic to pull out of this game hours ahead of kick off as a move to Rangers appears close, to grow in confidence.
After Steffen Hofmann and Atdhe Nuhiu had both gone close just after the 20-minute mark, it was those two players who combined for Rapid's equaliser in the 32nd minute.
From the right wing Hofmann's piercing delivery appeared to go straight in, bouncing beyond the despairing dive of Villa's cup goalkeeper Brad Guzan and inside his right-hand post.
However, the scoreboard inside the stadium credited Nuhiu with the goal, if so, the Austrian getting the faintest of touches off the top of his head as he jumped for the ball.
After Guzan then superbly hauled down a 20-yard Hofmann free-kick in the 42nd minute, the break that soon followed came as a welcome breather to a Villa side who were starting to wilt.
It allowed MacDonald to regroup his players, and for the opening 15 minutes afterwards they shaved the exchanges without testing Raimund Hedl.
In fairness to Villa, despite Rapid owning possession, Guzan found himself truly tested only once more, that just after the hour when he was at full stretch in pushing wide a Veli Kavlak drive.
Emile Heskey dragged one effort wide late on and Reo-Coker fired into the side-netting prior to Kavlak heading narrowly beyond the post a Hofmann free-kick.
In the end it was a brave draw for Villa ahead of next Thursday's return, and a night Bannan will not forget in a hurry.
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