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banner Thursday, 27 September, 2001, 21:09 GMT 22:09 UK
Villa leave it too late
Varteks 0-1 Aston Villa (Agg 3-3)

Aston Villa slipped quietly out of the Uefa Cup after taking more than 90 minutes to make an impression in Croatia.

Mustapha Hadji curled home a superb stoppage time shot to seal Villa victory on the night, but that was no consolation to John Gregory after a lame performance by his side.

Villa needed to score at least twice to overturn Varteks' shock first-leg lead but rarely looked like breaking their hosts down before Hadji's late strike.

Even a five minute injury-time period was not enough for Villa, who had survived the marathon of the InterToto Cup to reach this stage.

David Ginola was recalled for Villa
David Ginola endured a frustrating night
Gregory had been positive enough in his team selection, David Ginola restored to the starting line-up and summer signing Bosko Balaban handed a full debut in his homeland.

Dion Dublin and Juan Pablo Angel were both on the bench, ready to provide Gregory with more options in his search for goals.

They did not come - and the first-leg shambles that saw Villa surrender meakly rarely looked like being banished to memory.

In fact, it was the Croatians who looked the more dangerous on the counter-attack, with Veldin Karic looking menacing.

Varteks' first-leg hero Sasa Bjelanovic got on the end of a corner from Miljenko Mumlek but he directed his header off target.

Then a low centre from Mukaj was only inches away from finding the onrushing Bjelanovic.


We got what we came for, an away victory, but it was not a big enough margin
Villa boss John Gregory

Villa may have one of the strongest defences in the Premiership but for the second time in a week they were given plenty to think about by the Croatians.

John Gregory looked far from happy with his side's performance in the opening 45 minutes and the interval arrived with home keeper Danijel Madaric not having made a single save.

Villa's problems got worse in injury time when central defender Olaf Mellberg was stretchered off with an ankle injury and replaced by Steve Stone.

That forced Villa into a defensive reshuffle with Stone moving to right back and Delaney into the centre of the back four.

Gregory also decided on a change up front with Angel replacing Balaban, who had made little impression in the opening 45 minutes, but Villa still rarely threatened.

Madaric made his first save after 50 minutes when he held on to a rising effort from Hadji, then Lee Hendrie was just off target with a rising drive.

Villa finally enjoyed a spell of pressure as the game wore on, culminating in a superb Hadji strike as the game moved into stoppage time.

But it was too little too late for Villa, who have battled long and hard in this competition, only to fall at the first hurdle.


Varteks: Madaric, Hrman, Kristic, Rezic, Mukaj, Karic, Mumlek, Bjelanovic, Granic, Sabolcki, Kastel. Subs: Andricevic, Borovic, Rumbak, Balajic, Sklepic, Safaric, Drobne.

Aston Villa: Schmeichel, Delaney, Alpay, Mellberg, Wright, Kachloul, Hendrie, Boateng, Ginola, Hadji, Balaban. Subs: Angel, Dublin, Staunton, Enckelman, Barry, Stone, Samuel.

Referee: N Vollquartz (Denmark)

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BBC Sport's David Oates
"Villa didn't deserve to win"
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