The strategy Villa adopted against Sheffield Wednesday would not be so much ill- advised in their Uefa Cup campaign as inviting disaster. Instead of adhering to the close, swift and potentially incisive passing game, for which their five-player midfield was presumably designed, they resorted to a ploy from days of yore, the good old long ball.
"It was surprising coming from us," said Villa's manager, Brian Little. "But we did tend to hit it long after their first goal. Des Walker was able to use his pace and get the ball back. I don't think we got to grips with it in midfield." It was neither disciplined nor effective and while Little did not add as much he might have imagined how counter-attacking Continental opposition would prosper in such circumstances.
Perhaps they were provoked into such hasty measures by a wonderful opening goal. Ian Nolan's punt upfield did not look much more than speculative when it was glanced on by Mark Pembridge. The ball darted into the path of Ritchie Humphreys, raw, 18 and born in Sheffield. His left-footed volley was a gem of timing.
Until that point, 11 minutes into the second half, Villa had characteristically been more patient. They had been forced to make do with the minority of possession but had also looked the more threatening with it. Dwight Yorke, Ian Taylor and Tommy Johnson all demanded some urgent defensive work in the Wednesday area.
But falling one behind only made it more likely that the deficit would become two. So it proved. Guy Whittingham's delicate header at the far post deservedly put the game beyond Villa's reach. Johnson's strike in the last minute merely demonstrated that desperation sometimes works but only a bit. The delightful skills of Sasa Curcic, awaiting a renewed work permit after being recruited from Bolton, can only enhance them.
Wednesday's manager David Pleat, whose side had already been written off in some quarters, understandably beamed afterwards. He also announced the imminent arrival of Orlando Trustfull from Feyenoord for a fee of less than pounds 1m. If this attacking midfielder is as effective as the club's other Dutchman from Feyenoord, Regi Blinker, then sides other than Villa might be provoked into mild panic.
Goals: Humpreys (56) 1-0; Whittingham (83) 2-0; Johnson (90) 2- 1.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Stefanovic, Nolan; Collins, Whittingham, Pembridge (Hyde, 73), Blinker; Humphreys (Oakes, 80); Booth. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Nicol, Sheridan.
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton; Murray (Joachim, 63), Draper, Taylor, Townsend, Wright; Yorke, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Rachel (gk), McGrath, Farrelly, Scimeca.
Referee: L Dilkes (Mossley).
Man of the match: Blinker. Attendance: 26,861.