There will be no continental adventures or distractions for Aston Villa this season. After planting a foot in today's draw for the lucrative group stage of the Europa League through goals by James Milner and John Carew, they had it dramatically kicked from beneath them by Nikica Jelavic's late away goal for Rapid Vienna.
Milner converted the second of two first-half penalties awarded to Villa seven minutes after Ashley Young had failed from the first, while Carew finished with aplomb to put Martin O'Neill's side in apparent control of this qualifying-round tie. Jelavic, the Croat who scored Rapid's first-leg winner, had other ideas, burying the loose ball after Brad Guzan's foot kept out a shot by Makus Katzer.
Astonishingly, Villa might have had a third spot-kick in stoppage time, when former the Luton player Markus Heikkinen handled Nicky Shorey's cross, only for the Spanish referee to wave aside their appeals. Rapid, though, were scarcely undeserving victors, Jelavic having spurned an easier chance 60 seconds before scoring and Steffen Hofmann blazing over an open goal five minutes from time.
O'Neill, who had earlier signed the Blackburn utility player Stephen Warnock and remains hopeful of capturing Richard Dunne from Manchester City, struggled to put a brave face on the setback, even though it spares Villa a repeat of last season's draining 12-match Uefa Cup run. "We should have put the game out of sight and won the tie," the Villa manager said. "But overall I was delighted with the application of the side.
"It would have been a good experience for us, especially for our younger players. Last season we had some great European nights at Villa Park. It's disappointing we won't be having that again."
Peter Pacult, the Rapid coach, hailed the result on the night as "one of the nicest defeats we've ever had". He added: "Overall we deserved to go through. To beat a Premier League club is fantastic."
Fabian Delph, the baby of the home side at 19, often took responsibility for making their attacks less predictable, and his fine pass to Young led to the first Villa penalty. Having been fouled by Andreas Dober, Young stumbled but stayed on his feet. Running into the area, he was bundled over by Heikkinen. Young shot too close to the keeper and Helge Payer smothered the ball.
Six minutes later Young again surged into the area and once more Dober took him down. This time Milner thrashed the ball beyond Payer.
Hofmann looked set to restore their aggregate lead when Curtis Davies' header fell to him two minutes into the second half. The shot beat Guzan only for Carlos Cuellar to head off the line.
Villa soon doubled their tally on the night. Milner's pass released Carew on the right flank. Cutting in on to his left foot, he wrong-footed Ragnvald Soma before beating Payer on his near post.
The decisive moment came when Milner, presented with a tap-in after Payer parried Young's drive on the hour, missed. Jelavic was at first equally wasteful. Given a second chance, he sent Rapid's 3,000 raucous and mainly bare-chested followers wild with delight.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; Beye, Cuellar, Davies (Lowry, 83), Shorey; Milner, Delph (Albrighton, 86), Petrov, A Young; Carew, Heskey (Agbonlahor, 82). Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Sidwell, Reo-Coker, Gardner.
Rapid Vienna (4-4-1-1): Payer; Dober, Soma, Patocka, Katzer; Trimmel (Maierhofer, 56), Heikkenen, Pehlivan, Drazan; Hofmann; Jelavic (Boskovic, 87). Substitutes not used: Hedl (gk), Thonhofer, Kulovits, Eder, Konrad. Referee: C Velasco Carballo (Spain).