Villa through with a whimper
Hamburg 3 Aston Villa 1
Wednesday 17 December 2008
Aston Villa surrendered their unbeaten away record in Europe this season as a severely-weakened side were no match for Hamburg strikers Ivica Olic and Mladen Petric in a UEFA Cup clash at the Nordbank Arena.
With qualification for the final 32 already assured, 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 keeping one eye on the hectic festive programme ahead.
And the Villa bench included four reserve team players in Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark, Christopher Herd and Shane Lowry.
O'Neill 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 put question marks 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 because of injury or suspension.
Villa began the game with only Marlon Harewood operating up front and after 18 minutes a deadly piece of finishing from Petric put Hamburg in front after they had dominated the early exchanges.
Piotr Trochowski played a 50-yard ball which picked out the run of Petric who had managed to stay onside.
His first touch took him clear of Zat Knight and the second saw him fire a left-footed volley past the dive of Brad Guzan into the corner of the net.
Then after 28 minutes Villa were found wanting at the back again as Olic doubled Hamburg's lead.
Marcell Jansen supplied the ball out to Dennis Aogo on the left flank and his cross into the danger area saw Olic get in front of Cuellar and angle his header past Guzan via the inside of a post.
Joris Mathijsen became the first player to be yellow-carded for a late challenge on Craig Gardner.
But the attacks towards the Villa goal were now coming on a constant basis and Guzan was fortunate Trochowski volleyed straight at him from a Jansen centre.
In a rare attack by Villa, Gardner was only just too high with a volley from a couple of yards inside the Hamburg box.
But in first-half injury-time Guzan was relieved to see a thumping drive from Jansen crash against the crossbar.
Knight became the first Villa player to be yellow-carded after the break for a challenge on Petric.
But Cuellar was at fault when Villa fell further behind after 56 minutes to Olic's second goal.
Gardner was lying injured in the Hamburg box after a collision with goalkeeper Frank Rost but referee Aleksei Nikolaev allowed play to continue.
In the space of a few seconds Mathijsen launched a 60-yard pass into the Villa half which Cuellar looked favourite to win but Olic nicked the ball away from him and drilled a low shot past Guzan.
O'Neill was clearly unhappy with the decision and was spoken to by Nikolaev.
Guzan made a meal of turning a low shot from Trochowski around the post before Gardner was replaced by debutant Bannan.
The Villa players looked frustrated and Sidwell was booked for a challenge on Colin Benjamin.
Delfouneso scored a consolation goal eight minutes from time from a Moustapha Salifou centre.
A minute later Sidwell was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence when he tripped David Jarolim.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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