Olic demolishes weakened Villa

Hamburg 3 Aston Villa 1

Aston Villa surrendered their unbeaten away record in Europe this season as a severely weakened side were no match for the Hamburg strikers Ivica Olic and Mladen Petric in last night's Uefa Cup meeting here.

With qualification for the final 32 already assured, the Villa manager, Martin O'Neill, included only three of the starting line-up from the 4-2 weekend win over Bolton in defenders Carlos Cuellar and Luke Young and midfielder Steve Sidwell.

Villa, who had Sidwell sent off in the closing stages, had to play second fiddle to Martin Jol's side once Petric had opened the scoring to pave the way for a double blast from Olic before a late consolation from Nathan Delfouneso.

Five Villa players in Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Martin Laursen, Gareth Barry and James Milner had not even made the trip to Germany, with O'Neill focusing on the hectic festive programme.

The manager would have been wary of the threat Petric and Olic were likely to pose in their club's final game before the winter break. And the duo pulled the Villa centre-back pairing of Zat Knight and Cuellar, who looked particularly uncomfortable, all over the place with their movement and intelligent play.

It again raised questions over whether Villa have the strength in depth to sustain a challenge for a Champions League spot should any of their key performers have to be replaced in the coming weeks because of injury or suspension.

Hamburg (4-4-2): Rost; Boateng, Reinhardt, Mathijsen, Aogo; Trochowski (Ben-Hatira, 89), Jarolim, Benjamin, Jansen; Petric (Thiago Neves, 78), Olic (Guerrero, 70). Substitutes not used: Hesl, Demel, Pitroipa, Torun.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; L Young, Cuellar, Knight, Shorey; Gardner (Bannan, 60), Sidwell, Reo-Coker, Salifou; Harewood, Delfouneso. Substitutes not used: Friedel, Davies, Petrov, Clark, Herd, Lowry.

Referee: A Nikolayev (Russia).

*Portsmouth recorded a fine 3-0 win against Heerenveen at Fratton Park last night thanks to two goals from the England striker Peter Crouch and a late Hermann Hreidarsson effort. Pompey were already eliminated from Uefa Cup Group E.

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