Aston Villa can take heart from when they beat Tranmere in 'the most dramatic match'

Premier League side take on fourth tier Bradford tonight

When Ron Atkinson remembers "the most dramatic football match" of his managerial career, it is not the night in 1984 that his Manchester United side overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit against Diego Maradona's Barcelona in the European Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final, but rather a victory over Tranmere Rovers.

It was the League Cup semi-final of 1994 and then as now, Aston Villa found themselves 3-1 behind after 90 minutes against lower-league opposition. The comeback that followed – in front of the ITV cameras on a Sunday afternoon – remains the only time any team have reached the final of the competition after a first-leg loss by two goals or more. And though Villa went on to beat United at Wembley, denying them a domestic Treble, getting through that incident-packed semi-final provided the bigger test of nerve.

"It had everything," Atkinson says of a contest that saw his namesake Dalian strike in injury-time of the first-leg at Prenton Park. "They were winning 3-0 and with the last kick we scored. When we came in after the game you would have thought we'd won and they'd lost; they were quite deflated."

Pat Nevin was part of that enterprising Tranmere team, then fifth in the second tier, and he concurs: "We'd just beaten Villa 3-1 but there was something in the back of our minds thinking that one goal [following a debatable free-kick] was damned unfortunate." If that was unfortunate, Lady Luck abandoned them altogether in Birmingham. "It's like a bad dream, all the things that went wrong," Nevin adds.

Although Villa made a flying start with goals from Dean Saunders and Shaun Teale, the big talking point arrived after 26 minutes when goalkeeper Mark Bosnich conceded a penalty for bringing down John Aldridge. The Australian escaped a red card and though beaten by Aldridge's spot-kick, he went on to save three penalties in the shootout. "In today's game he would have gone straight away but for whatever reason, [the referee Allan Gunn] didn't even book him," recalls Teale.

Unlike Paul Lambert's Villa, that 1994 team was packed with experience – "the likes of Andy Townsend, Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton, Paul McGrath – the Irish contingent," Teale remembers – and they also had a noisy Villa Park behind them. "That was the most electric atmosphere, helped by the fact that the club decided to play 'We Will Rock You' right through the game."

Yet Tranmere held out until the 88th minute when Villa levelled the aggregate scores at 5-5. "We battered away and before the end of normal time Dalian Atkinson got another goal which put us all square," says Ron Atkinson. "Even then with the last kick of the match [Tranmere's] Liam O'Brien had a shot that hit one post and rolled across the line."

Even the penalty shootout had twists and turns. Entering sudden death at 4-4, Villa captain Kevin Richardson stepped forward when the assigned taker hesitated – and he missed, giving O'Brien the chance to send Tranmere through. "There was a delay of 10 seconds or so and I thought 'I've got to take the responsibility'. I missed. Then it was all down to Bozzie [Bosnich] to keep us in the competition; thankfully, he saved it," said Richardson.

Villa were on their way. Tony Daley made it 5-4, Bosnich denied Ian Nolan and Wembley beckoned. "It was awesome, the place was rocking, the best atmosphere I ever experienced in a game at Villa Park," says Daley, who hopes for something similar tonight. "If that can't raise them nothing will and for that reason I think Villa have a good chance." Atkinson feels the same: "I just have a feeling they will go through."

Suggested Topics
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links