After defeat in the FA Cup final – the last to be played at the old Wembley – Villa were handed an obscure route to Europe in the form of the Intertoto Cup. The competition aimed to grant passage into the UEFA Cup by way of winning the tournament. Despite its abolition in 2008, when Villa entered the competition at the third-round stage in 2000, the competition was the talk of the midlands. In particular, at the home of West Bromwich Albion…
Third Round, First Leg
Marila Pribram 0-0 Aston Villa
16th July 2000, Na Litavce, 7,000
Making their bow in the competition, Villa entered at the third round stage of UEFA’s relatively new contest. Although the competition format existed since 1961, it was officially recognized by the European football governors when they took control of its proceedings in 1995.
Villa were paired with Marila Pribram – a club that had recently relocated from the country’s capital to a small town 60 kilometres away. In fact, Pribram has a population lower than the capacity of Villa Park!
Obviously, Villa were firm favourites for the tie. However, neutrals were forgiven for thinking otherwise when John Gregory’s men were held to a scoreless draw in their season opener.
Resembling little more than a pre-season fixture, the only spark of the game came when Mark Delaney saw red late on. For kicking out at the opposition goalkeeper, he would miss the return leg.
Third Round, Second Leg
Aston Villa 3-1 Marila Pribram
22nd July 2000, The Hawthorns, 8,000
Indeed, the last European match to be played at the home of the Baggies was an Aston Villa fixture! Due to the ongoing construction of the new Trinity Road Stand, Villa needed a new venue before the league season began. Shadowed by the Holte End, the Hawthorns (only four miles away) was where Villa set up camp for the day.
Claret and blue superiority were clear to see six days on from the first leg. Early into proceedings, Dion Dublin scored from a corner and set Villa on course for a comfortable victory. Or so they thought; a goal for the Marila soon after caused concern on the unfamiliar terraces.
A half-time re-shuffle saw Villa attack the game with the required vigour to win the match. A long-range Luc Nilis free-kick smacked off the post showing Villa’s intent.
Just minutes after striking the woodwork, Villa found the target. Ian Taylor restored Villa’s lead in the 50’ minute.
Making quite the impact on his debut, Nilis announced himself to his new team. On hand to rifle in Gareth Barry’s cross, he sealed the hard-fought victory.
Semi-Final, First Leg
Celta Vigo 1-0 Aston Villa
26th July 2000, Balaidos, 9,500
David James was in fine form when Aston Villa faced Celta Vigo for the third time in less than two years. Having made a flurry of excellent saves early on to deny the host’s, he tarnished his otherwise spotless performance by fumbling a tame effort – denying Villa a shut-out.
Unable to claw themselves back into the game, Villa suffered a loss on the road – and more disappointingly, failed to make any sort of imprint on the game.
Semi-Final, Second Leg
Aston Villa 1-2 Celta Vigo
2nd August 2000, The Hawthorns, 11,908
In contrast to the previous meeting, the return leg (again at the Hawthorns) was unforgettable.
A memorable performance from Villa? Not quite.
After flourishing 12 yellow cards and 3 reds, the referee diverted the spotlight from another poor Villa showing. Alan Thompson was dismissed for his reaction towards an opponent after being fouled, and Ian Taylor was sent off for apparently diving. To the bemusement of spectators watching on, it seemed clear that Taylor had jumped over a tackle to avoid a collision, rather than trying to mislead the officials.
As he had done in the first leg, Benni McCarthy capitalized to take the lead at the Hawthorns. Nonetheless, Villa were presented with a golden opportunity to re-establish themselves in the contest when Paul Merson was handed a penalty – which he missed.
Shortly after the interval, Villa were given another spot-kick. This time, Gareth Barry lined up from twelve yards and put Villa back into contention.
This was short-lived. McCarthy scored his third goal of the tie just before the hour mark to take the game away from Villa’s grasp. Now leading 3-1 on aggregate, a sluggish Villa side exited the competition almost as quickly as they had entered it.