Barry's cool finish tips balance for Villa

Aston Villa 2 Ajax 1

After six qualifying matches against humble opposition, Aston Villa enjoyed the taste of some real European football last night, although they made hard work of winning their opening Group F game with a goal by Gareth Barry just before half-time. Missing their tall striker John Carew, who should be back against Wigan on Sunday, they played Gabriel Agbonlahor down the centre, but were unable to force many scoring chances despite some good service from Ashley Young on the left flank. Agbonlahor was carried off in the final minute but is not believed to be seriously injured.

Marco van Basten's Ajax, still producing good young players but forced to sell the better ones, are only ninth in the Dutch League and without an away win. They came back well after Martin Laursen's opening goal and forced Brad Friedel into a good late save from Urby Emanuelson before submitting. The exchange of goals in the first quarter of the game brought two headers by centre-halves from corner kicks. Martin Laursen capitalised on weak work by the third-choice goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, who ventured out and failed to collect, by nodding in his fourth goal of the season from Ashley Young's kick after eight minutes. It was inadequate marking rather than goalkeeping that brought an equaliser less than quarter of an hour later.

Although Luke Young did well to get across from right-back and block Jeffrey Sarpong's shot, Thomas Vermaelen was left unattended to head in Emanuelson's inswinging corner. On the half-hour, Emanuelson delivered an identical ball and to Brad Friedel's fury, Luis Suarez was allowed to flick on for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who could not quite convert at the far post.

The crowd were beginning to grow restless towards the interval and some had doubtless made their way down for a warming drink when a goal suddenly materialised from Villa's only other attempt on target in the first half. Ashley Young was again the creator, his low cross being jabbed out by Oleguer towards the penalty spot, from where Barry calmly side-footed in. There was barely time for the dismayed visitors to kick off before half-time. Although O'Neill was delighted with their "brilliant" second-half performance, Villa failed to turn territorial superiority into scoring opportunities.

The best one followed another corner, the improving Vermeer parrying Nicky Shorey's shot to Laursen and just managing to hold the defender's header right on the line. Agbonlahor, watched by his England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce, then failed with an appeal against the substitute Leonardo for what O'Neill called "a clear-cut penalty".

There was an anxious final period as Huntelaar and Emanuelson went uncomfortably close to securing a draw and Agbonlahor collided painfully with the goalkeeper. "He's got a lot of cuts across both knees but we're hoping that's all it will be," O'Neill said. Villa must now play Slavia Prague, Zilnia and Martin Jol's Hamburg.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Young, Cuellar, Laursen, Shorey; Milner, Reo-Coker (Gardner, 81), Petrov, Barry; Agbonlahor, Young. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Sidwell, Harewood, Davies, Knight, Salifou.

Ajax: (4-1-2-3): Vermeer; Bruno Silva ((Van der Wiel, 78), Oleguer, Vermaelen, Emanuelson; Lindgren; Gabri, Vertonghen; Suarez (Leonardo, 60), Huntelaar, Sarpong (Cvitanovich, 55). Substitutes not used: Vonk (gk), Sno, Anita, Schilder.

Referee: T Einwaller (Austria).

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'