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Page last updated at 21:37 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

Slavia Prague 0-1 Aston Villa

By Ian Hughes

Steve Sidwell and Zat Knight celebrate Villa's goal
Sidwell (left) and Knight celebrate Villa's goal

Aston Villa took a big step towards qualification from Uefa Cup Group F with a narrow win at Slavia Prague.

Villa took the lead when Steve Sidwell's shot from just outside the box was deflected in by John Carew.

Ashley Young's free-kick hit the bar and Carew's drive was well saved as Villa pushed on, while Brad Guzan saved well to deny Slavia's Tomas Jarolim.

Matej Krajcik went close with an angled shot and Jarolim was again denied by Guzan as Villa just about held on.

Martin O'Neill's men found themselves pinned back in the second half as Slavia poured forward but they withstood the pressure to claim a superb win.

With their 100% start to the competition - following the win against Ajax - Villa now sit three points clear of Hamburg at the top of the group.

And impressively, the three points in Prague were achieved by a Villa team showing wholesale changes from the one beaten by Newcastle on Monday.

With six new faces in the line-up, it was perhaps inevitable that Villa would take a little while to find their rhythm.

They might have gone behind but Guzan, in for Brad Friedel, produced a fine double save to deny Cerny and then Nedic.

It stung Villa into a response and they went close to opening the scoring when Craig Gardner's volley brought a fine reaction save from Vaniak.

Now using the flanks and moving the ball around with greater pace, Villa began to dominate.

And they got the goal they deserved - and a fair slice of luck - when Sidwell's effort deflected wickedly off Carew to nestle into the bottom corner.

The lead might have been added to but Young's free-kick hit the bar and Carew's first time shot was brilliantly beaten away by Vaniak.

And Villa almost paid for not taking their chances when Jarolim went past two defenders in the box and fired in a low shot but Guzan made another fine stop.

That should have been a warning to Villa, but it served only to inject confidence into the hosts.

A cross-shot from Krajcik fizzed past the post as Slavia raised the tempo and Guzan was again called into action to keep out Jarolim's fierce drive.

With Villa pegged back deep in their own half, their lead was looking more and more vulnerable.

But Necid headed wide and later drove a shot off target as the equaliser continued to prove elusive.

Some desperate defending from Villa just about saw them through - and it leaves them in a strong position after two matches.

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill:
"We were really great in the first half. Maybe we could have scored more goals.

"I think we deserved to win. I believe now that seven points will definitely get us through to the play-off stage scheduled for next spring."

"I think Guzan is a great goalkeeper in the making and I'm delighted he got his work permit, and I think he's following in a long line of great American goalkeepers.

"I thought he was brilliant and all the things we felt we saw in him when he was in America, we're delighted they've come out."

Slavia Prague: Vaniak, Krajcik, Suchy, Brabec, Hubacek (Senkerik 66), Volesak (Belaid 46), Tavares, Jarolim, Cerny, Necid, Smicer (Svento 41).
Subs Not Used: Divis, Latka, Janda, Toleski.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Davies, Cuellar, Shorey, Knight, Sidwell, Ashley Young, Salifou, Gardner, Agbonlahor (Barry 89), Carew (Delfouneso 90).
Subs Not Used: Friedel, Luke Young, Laursen, Routledge, Reo-Coker.

Booked: Gardner, Sidwell, Guzan.

Goals: Carew 26.

Att: 20,322

Ref: Costas Kapitanis (Cyprus).

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Aston Villa's Nicky Shorey on 7.45 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

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see also
Uefa Cup photos
06 Nov 08 |  Football
Player Rater
27 Aug 08 |  Europe
Uefa Cup as it happened
06 Nov 08 |  Europe

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