Villa pay the price for lack of imagination

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The Independent Online
Helsingborgs 0 Aston Villa 0 aggregate 1-1; Helsingborgs win on away goals

Aston Villa made an ignominious exit from the Uefa Cup on the west coast of Sweden last night, knocked out in the first round on away goals by virtue of Peter Wibran's equaliser for Helsingborgs in the 1-1 draw at Villa Park a fortnight ago.

Villa, well organised but lacking imagination, completed an unwanted hat-trick of exits in successive seasons by English clubs to Swedish opposition in Europe as they suffered the same fate as Blackburn in 1994 and Manchester United 12 months ago.

The match was almost a replica of the first encounter, with Villa dominating for lengthy periods but failing to break down their opponents. Villa lacked ideas and creativity, often resorting to hopeful long crosses into the box and being restricted mainly to efforts from outside the area. The nearest they came to snatching victory was in the final seconds when full- back Alan Wright's 30-yard shot was deflected on to his own crossbar by Helsingborgs keeper Sven Andersson.

In the opening 45 minutes Villa forced only one worthwhile save out of Andersson. That was in the 22nd minute when Andy Townsend surged towards the penalty area and saw his low drive turned aside for a corner. A low drive from Dwight Yorke which was easily collected by Anderson was their only other on-target effort in the first half.

The 300 Villa supporters who had made the trip tried to generate some atmosphere, but it was a surprisingly low-key affair considering Helsingborgs were on the verge of a major upset.

Mark Draper was presented with a chance two minutes after the break when Savo Milosevic headed the ball into his path, but the former Leicester player was unable to get much power into his shot and Andersson saved comfortably.

Villa had claims for a penalty in the 54th minute when Ola Nilsson looked to have handled as Yorke burst into the box but the referee awarded a free-kick to Helsingborgs.

On the hour Brian Little, the Villa manager, decided to change his tactics, pushing central defender Ugo Ehiogu into attack and replacing him at the back with Paul McGrath as Fernando Nelson was substituted. But it was still heavy going for Villa, although Andersson had to react sharply to turn over an inswinging effort by Draper.

Little's last throw of the dice was in the 83rd minute when he threw on Tommy Johnson, Villa's scorer in the first leg, but it was all to no avail and the Swedes went through.

Helsingborgs: S Andersson; O Nilsson, R Nilsson, Jacobsson, Fursth (Ljung, 83), Wibran, Powell (Pringle, 57), Johnsson, Eriksson, Jansson, Lantz (Jonsson, 89). Substitutes not used: Sundstrom, Pearsson.

Aston Villa: Oakes; Nelson (McGrath, 59), Wright, Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton, Draper, Townsend, Taylor, Yorke, Milosevic (Johnson, 83). Substitutes not used: Joachim, Scimeca, Rachel (gk).

Referee: R Philippi (Luxembourg).

Mark Bosnich, the Villa goalkeeper, has been told he will not need surgery on the knee injury which has kept him out of the game since the start of the season. Bosnich saw a specialist on Monday and a scan revealed that the Australian was suffering from severely bruised ligaments.