CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Thursday, August 19, 2010
Rapid Vienna vs Aston Villa
Champions League - Thursday August 19, 2010
Gerhard Hanappi Stadium
Aston Villa nabbed an important away goal in Vienna but coughed up an equalizer as Brad Guzan and Eric Lichaj started and went the distance.
Both Americans were in interim Villa head coach Kevin MacDonald's starting eleven, while Brad Friedel took a rest from his Premier League duty to watch a young team improve upon last season's short spell in Europe.
Without the likes of Gabe Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and the Manchester City-bound James Milner, the Villans were on their second trip to the Austrian capital in as many years after facing and defeating Rapid in 2009, but getting knocked out at home by an away goal in a 2-1 win.
Lichaj was active at right back in the opening minutes, kickstarting the Villa offense with crisp passing, and being warned for bringing down Rapid's Markus Katzer while Guzan got his first touch on the ball after five minutes when he scooped up a Hamdi Salihi shot.
Villa's offense was potent at the outset thanks to the work of Marc Albrighton down the right side a minute later, beating defender Markus Heikkinen and earning a corner, but Lichaj was caught offside on the ensuing attack.
Rapid came to life after ten minutes when a cross from the left side found Salihi, who went to the ground after contact. Austrian Atdhe Nuhiu immediately struck the loose ball but not on target.
Tanju Kayhan became the first player in the referee's book, receiving a yellow card in the 11th minute for tugging.
Villa's attack focused on exploiting the right side against Katzer, and their plan worked in the 12th minute with their only goal of the game a minute later. Albrighton faced off against the Austrian and cut left into the box, and with plenty of space, found the unmarked Barry Bannan a a few feet in front of the net for the strike past Raimund Hedl and the 1-0 lead.
Norwegian defender Ragnvald Soma entered the books with a yellow at the 17 minute mark for downing Emile Heskey, setting up a Stewart Downing free kick that sailed past the far post.
Rapid were stunned for several minutes but aroused some offense at the 20-minute mark when captain Steffan Hoffman nearly equalized with a shot off a corner from top of box that took a deflection and skirted just past post. Nuhiu followed that up with a header in the box off the corner that bounced high over Guzan's bar.
The hosts continued their pressure minutes later, when Kayhan got off an effort from 30 yards, but struck wide left.
Aston Villa tried to counter after 25 minutes after Downing and Albrighton switched sides in the midfield. This time Downing streamed down the right and swung into the box but couldn't connect.
The Rapid captain continued to attack after nearly a half hour with a 35-yard freekick for Katzer, who headed far wide with his back to the goal.
A similar set piece minutes later led to the equalizer that was credited to Nihiu. Hoffman swung in a free kick from the right side that skimmed Nihiu's head on its way past the sliding Salihi and just inside the left post.
"What are you going to do?" a frustrated Guzan admitted on giving up the lead. "Especially that early in the game, up 1-0 after 10 minutes, which I found quite shocking. You have to deal with it and get on with it."
Villa captain Nigel Reo-Coker became the next recipient of a yellow card in the 33rd minute for an errant tackle in the midfield.
With more wind in Rapid's sails, Hoffman nearly brought the hosts into the lead in the 35th minute off a Kavlak corner with a volley from 20 yards right side that dribbled left.
The German did the same in the 43rd minute, nearly netting a 25-yard freekick with a fine curling strike over the wall. Unfortunately for Hoffman, Guzan was there for the diving grab at the right post.
The American keeper became the object of the fans discontent after being carded in the 51st minute for wasting time, and not being carded after a collision with Salihi two minutes later. The striker ran into the box to catch up with a long pass and met Guzan's knee as he leaped for the save.
Guzan's solid play in the net didn't help matters for the Rapid faithful, as in the 62nd minute when a Kavlak strike from left corner of the box required a diving parry from the American.
Soon after referee Alain Hamer stopped play after objects were thrown on the pitch at Guzan.
''A few lighters, a couple of coins and obviously some beverages,'' Guzan joked, shrugging off the incident. ''It's one of those situations where you come into to a hostile environment and you know the fans aren't going to be to kind to you and you try to get on with it."
The visitors looked for the lead and found their next chance in the 71st minute, when Heskey worked his way across the top of the box and unleashed a strike that skipped wide left.
Rapid coach Peter Pacult made his first substitution minutes later, bringing on Rene Gartler for Salihi. MacDonald followed suit minutes later bringing on Nathan Delfouneso for the goal-scorer Bannan.
With time winding down the hosts tried to nab a go-ahead in the 76th minute when a Gartler strike hit Guzan's right hand for the fortunate save. Just a minute later, the Green and Whites were at it again with a Thomas Hinum 25-yarder that flew over Guzan's bar.
By the 82nd minute the momentum had swung in favor of the Viennese as Hoffman delivered a dangerous free kick in for Katzer in the box. From 10 yards out the Austrian nodded inches left of the post.
They had one last-gasp attempt two minutes into extra-time, when Kazhan swung in a cross for Gartler in the box, but the Austrian could not get a head on the delivery.
Despite the result Lichaj was content with his performance.
''I know I'm actually smiling now but it's too bad we didn't get the win,'' the American commented to YA after the game.
Villa return home to battle Newcastle United away before hosting the Viennese next Thursday.