Hadji's late strike fails to save Villa from humiliation

Varteks 0 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

Aston Villa's Uefa Cup run came to end last night as they failed to overcome the damage inflicted in the first leg and bowed out to the Croatian side Varteks. A sweetly-struck goal in injury time from Mustapha Hadji won the second leg for John Gregory's side, but they went out on the away goals rule. In the end, all the effort put in since the middle of July in slogging through the Intertoto Cup to reach the first round was rather a wasted exercise.

Villa were always up against it after losing 3-2 in Birmingham and Gregory knew his side would have to triumph by two clear goals in the return here. Yet in a lacklustre first half performance they failed to test the home goalkeeper Danijel Madaric once.

Even after the break, although the visitors enjoyed the greater share of possession, they still barely posed a serious threat to the Croatians.

In truth, Varteks had been the more incisive side in the first half and had the game's best player in Mijenko Mumlek, while the long-haired Veldin Karic was also a constant menace to the shaky Villa defence.

Gregory, who had sprung a surprise in the first leg by leaving out Paul Merson and Lee Hendrie, produced another in preferring to play David Ginola in an unaccustomed forward role. However, it was only in the second half when Dion Dublin and Juan Pablo Angel entered the fray that Villa started to exert any concerted pressure.

In the opening 45 minutes it was the home side's two danger men, Mumlek and Karic, who created the first moment of real menace. Mumlek fed the ball into the path of Karic and he outstripped Alpay only to be denied by Peter Schmeichel.

Sasa Bjelanovic, two-goal hero of the first leg for Varteks, was then only inches away from making contact with a low centre from Devis Mukaj, while Schmeichel did well to turn a low 20-yard effort around the post from Mumlek.

Villa, with Angel on for the anonymous Bosko Balaban, only started to put some pressure on the home side's goal after the break. Madaric was tested for the first time in the 50th minute when he held on to a rising 25-yard shot from Hadji.

Hendrie was then only just too high from the edge of the area In injury time, Hadji scored a spectacular winner on the evening from 20 yards out which flew into the roof of the net – but it was too little too late.

Varteks: Madaric, Hrman (Andricevic, 90), Kristic, Rezic, Mukaj, Karic (Drobne, 90), Mumlek (Balajic, 58), Bjelanovic, Granic, Sabolcki, Kastel. Substitutes not used: Borovic, Rumbak (gk), Sklepic, Safaric.

Aston Villa: Schmeichel, Delaney, Alpay Ozalan, Mellberg (Stone, 45), Wright, Kachloul (Dublin, 63), Hendrie, Boateng, Ginola, Hadji, Balaban (Angel, h-t). Substitutes not used: Staunton, Enckelman (gk), Barry, Samuel.

Referee: N Vollquartz (Denmark).