Escapades on the Continent – Villa in Europe: Milan heartbreak conquered 1994-95


After league cup triumph in 1994, Villa were destined for a UEFA Cup campaign the following season. Many supporters feared the European trophy drive may have been over as quickly as it started when Inter Milan were drawn as first-round opponents. Despite not boasting quite as many of the world-class players that had beaten Villa (on aggregate) in 1990, Internazionale were the defending UEFA Cup champions – few could’ve picked a harder draw.

 

First Round, First Leg

Internazionale 1-0 Aston Villa

15th September 1994, San Siro, 22,639

The team that Villa succumb to in 1990 was filled with world-class talent. That’s not to say this Inter team of 94’ lacked quality, though the departures of Jurgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthäus (among others) had taken slight glitz off the eleven. After all, the Italians replacement was only Dennis Bergkamp…

In the lashing Milan rain, Villa took to the San Siro for the second time in four years. Just Paul McGrath and Nigel Spink remained in the Villa squad from that night of collapse under Jozef Venglos. Having led the tie by two goals coming into the match, Villa had squandered it all – losing 3-0 on the night and crashing out of European competition in embarrassing style.

As already mentioned though, with different teams, brewed a different result. Once again for Villa though, not a winning one.

A penalty converted in the 76’ minute by Bergkamp sent Villa back to Birmingham with nothing to show for their hard-fought defending – deserving a draw at the very least.

Still, this was some improvement from 1990. The desolated San Siro playing host that night must’ve played a part in Villa’s favour. Coming into the game on the back of a defeat to Roma, a public transport strike in the city that night, and the torrential weather conditions, the 75,000 that bustled through the turnstiles to watch this fixture not so long ago were nowhere to be seen four years on.

First Round, Second Leg

Aston Villa 1-0 Internazionale

(Villa won 4-3 on Penalties)

29th September 1994, Villa Park, 30,533

30,000 Villans crammed onto the terraces to watch the return of Inter Milan – and it could have been more. The upper Holte was under construction at the time so attendance had to be capped off before reaching a greater number.

Still, with the benefit of home advantage, Villa, players and fans alike, felt confident that the 1-0 defeat could be overturned.

Ron Atkinson – ever the visionary – asserted composure in his pre-match programme notes.

“We can’t go off on the sound of trumpets and expect to grab two quick goals”

“This one has to be played with the heads as well as the hearts”

Playing with both heads and hearts seemed to do Villa justice.

Despite an early shot from Nicola Berti pelting the woodwork, Villa took the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Kevin Richardson crossed from the right-wing, only for the ball to strike Massimo Paganin and bounce kindly to Ray Houghton inside the penalty area…

Clarity! Villa were back level and dominating all areas of the pitch, the Italians were on the ropes.

For the majority of the second half, Villa were unable to make their pressure count, until with just minutes to go, Guy Whittingham shot at goal.

Chipping the ball delightfully over the worlds most expensive goalkeeper at the time, the ball wouldn’t drop in front of the Holte End in time as now Villa were denied by the same crossbar Milan had been in the first half.

Extra-time came and went as Villa pushed to find the second goal to win the match. Nothing came for either side though as the game headed for a penalty shoot-out. Something the Villa players were well-versed in – beating Tranmere Rovers on spot-kicks in the league cup semi-final that February.

On a frosty September night, Villa’s second penalty shootout of the year commenced…

All six shots had been scored as it was tied 3-3. Either side yet to flinch as Davide Fontolan tried to place his shot into the top left corner, but saw his effort balloon over the bar instead.

With Villa Park still jubilant from such a miss, the tie was all Villa’s to be won as Whittingham charged up to the ball. From a run-up starting outside the penalty area, he compromised all direction for power, sending the ball straight into the palms of Gianluca Pagliuca and throwing away his side’s advantage!

Next came Ruben Sosa, to give the visitors the lead, however, he crashed his kick into Spinks crossbar and for the second successive Villa penalty, the hosts had the chance to win it.

Making no mistake this time, Phil King the £250,000 signing that summer, fired past the £7 million players opposite him!

More penalty joy for Villa as Inter Milan were dispatched! The heartache from 1990 put to rest and Villa would journey to Turkey for round two.

Second Round, First Leg

Trabzonspor 1-0 Aston Villa

18th October 1994, Huseyin Avni Aker, 23,000

Banners reading ‘Welcome to Hell’ greeted the Villa contingent as they disembarked the aeroplane upon landing in Turkey. As the early warning signs suggested, they would not be treated to any pleasantries whilst in the city of Trabzon.

At the stadium, Steve Stride (Villa Secretary at the time) watched on. He recalled some of the altercations he experienced at the match.

“It was a dangerous situation”

“We could hear shots being fired into the air from the terraces!”

Whilst no Villa fan that made the journey was physically injured, late defeat to the second-best team in Turkey that year was a hard pill to swallow. Especially after the penalty heroics of overcoming Inter Milan in the previous round. Nevertheless, a rematch at Villa Park awaited…

Second Round, Second Leg

Aston Villa 2-1 Trabzonspor

1st November 1994, Villa Park, 23,858

Defeat in Turkey had been classed as a blip by the media and most Villa fans. Over two legs, how could a team in the position of Aston Villa fail to beat a club that most had never heard of?

 

The reality was that it had happened before, and it could happen again. Especially if the eleven players on the pitch failed to control that innate arrogance of a premier league footballer.

Ron Atkinson warned in the programme,

“There could be a feeling among some supporters that because the name Trabzonspor is little-known in this country that they will be an easier hurdle than the Italians”

“Anyone who believes that is on entirely the wrong lines”

The manager’s wisdom proved to be right. Villa struggled to break down the Turks until the 74′ minute when Dalian Atkinson opened the scoring on his 100th claret and blue appearance.

After a penalty was saved from Steve Staunton, Ugo Ehiogu’s rebound shot bounced off the keeper before it was finally sent over the line by Atkinson.

Despite being down to ten men through the Trabzonspor red card for a handball on the line (earning Villa the penalty), the visitors miraculously took the lead with minutes remaining.

Villa now needed two goals inside two minutes to secure passage to the third round. For a few moments, it looked like they may be able to do it.

Ugo Ehiogu managed to score a winner in the 89minute, but Villa were out of time.

 

Having beaten Inter Milan in the first round, Villa were beaten by Trabzonspor in the second. A turn of events no one predicted saw Villa exit the competition in what was becoming familiar fashion. Departing the UEFA Cup in the second-round phase for the third successive time.

Nine days after defeat to Trabzonspor, Ron Atkinson was sacked.

Brian Little was the man to lead Villa into their next European Campaign – the 1996/97 season.

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