Weakened Villa frozen out by Love
CSKA MOscow 2 Aston Villa 0 (CSKA win 3-1 on aggregate)
Friday 27 February 2009
Aston Villa's "reserves" did not disgrace themselves after being exposed to the bitter Moscow cold and manager Martin O'Neill's ambitions. But this was always going to be a bridge too far for a makeshift side in the wake of eight first-team regulars being left at home.
It required second-half strikes from Yuri Zhirkov on the hour and Vagner Love in the third minute of stoppage time to break Villa's resistance. Everyone had known in advance O'Neill would field a weakened side, but even when he confirmed the squad on Tuesday it took people by surprise.
The fact O'Neill kept so many stars behind said it all, making it clear his over-riding priority this season is to qualify for the Champions League.
With no Gareth Barry, Brad Friedel, Emile Heskey, James Milner, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Carlos Cuellar and Stiliyan Petrov, there was every danger Villa would be like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery.
O'Neill had certainly made no apology in advance for his decision, one he described as his hardest since his arrival at the club. The Northern Irishman was left hoping the Villa fans – in particular the 300 that had paid hard-earned cash to trek to Moscow – would understand the logic behind his thinking. Standing in sub-zero temperatures for two hours is hardly anybody's idea of fun, but those hardy souls were at least offered a glimpse of the future, if nothing else.
That was due to O'Neill springing another surprise with his line-up by handing full debuts to 19-year-olds Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan, who operated on the left and right-wings respectively.
Both could have folded under the pressure, but instead the teenage duo grabbed their chances with both hands as they gave accomplished displays, suggesting they may be at the club for the long term. As for the remainder of the line-up, at least there was strength in defence in stand-in captain Luke Young, Zat Knight, Curtis Davies and Nicky Shorey – the only regular first-teamers on view.
They certainly played their part in keeping CSKA at bay, with the Russian side playing the first home game of their campaign, and with a new boss in Brazilian legend Zico. The chances that came in the first half all fell the way of the home side, but then not once was Brad Guzan called on to make a save.
What proved to be Villa's only worthwhile effort of the game came in the 14th minute when the lively Albrighton's cross found fellow 19-year-old Nathan Delfouneso for a sidefoot volley comfortably taken by Igor Akinfeev.
Two gilt-edged chances went begging in the opening 10 minutes of the second half for CSKA – Milos Krasnic flashing a shot wide and Zhirkov shooting straight at Guzan after being played through. Zhirkov made amends with a thunderous drive minutes later to open the scoring before twice being denied again by Guzan. Wagner Love sealed victory with the last kick of the game and his 10th goal in this season's competition.
CSKA Moscow: Akinfeev; Alexei Berezutsky, Vasili Berezutsky, Ignashevich, Shchennikov, Krasic, Rahimic, Semberas, Zhirkov, Dzagoev, Wagner Love. Substitutes not used: Pomazan, Odiah, Daniel Carvalho, Mamaev, Erkin, Ramon, Ricardo Jesus.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Luke Young, Davies (Osbourne, 84), Knight, Shorey, Albrighton, Gardner, Salifou (Harewood, 46), Sidwell, Bannan, Delfouneso. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Lichaj, Clark, Lowry.
Referee: F Brych (Germany).
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