As part of an ongoing feature during the COVID-induced postponement of football, our writers and friends will share their favourite games at Villa Park.
Words: Andrew Maddox | @MaddoxJourno
Aston Villa had proven to be indomitable in the face of hardship yet again in the summer of 2008. Despite a tragic injury to Wilfried Bouma and a farcical attempt by then Captain Gareth Barry to force a move away, smart recruitment helped ease the loss.
James Milner arrived from Newcastle, Brad Friedel was proving to be a brick wall in goal, whilst Carlos Cuellar and Luke Young were solid additions to the defence.
A UEFA Cup campaign had begun well, with easy wins over Icelandic side Fimleikafélag Hafnarfjarðar and Bulgarian outfit Litex Lovech in the Qualifying Rounds, but they were something of underdogs in the group stage. The campaign truly began against Dutch runners-up Ajax under the floodlights at Villa Park.
The Villans were under the cosh from the start. Ajax pushed forward like a Juggernaut with the strikeforce of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who was three months away from becoming a Galactico, and Luis Suarez proving to be as threatening as you could imagine. Villa’s own striking options were down to the barebones after John Carew was suspended for his antics in a gentleman’s club.
Aston Villa would not let this phase them. Newly-appointed skipper Martin Laursen rose like a phoenix to head in Ashley Young’s delivery in the eighth minute to put the hosts in front. The Holte End in raptures as the Danish hero wheels away in celebration.
Thomas Vermaelen levelled the scores in the 22nd minute – but Gareth Barry redeemed himself by netting the winner on the stroke of half-time. Again, Villa Park shakes off the October chills to rise up in jubilation.
This was met with resilience by the players on the pitch, surviving an injury to Gabriel Agbonlahor and holding back everything the Dutch had to throw at them. The Villans controlled the game and refused to bow to the Ajax attack.
What made this so memorable and important was how well it summed up Villa’s mentality throughout that season. The squad refused to be stopped by anything – including a career-ending injury to their captain in the January of 2009.
Aston Villa went on to secure a sixth-placed finish, narrowly missing out on automatic UEFA Cup qualification to Everton. Villa didn’t hit the Champions League pot of gold, but wouldn’t let hardship and challenges keep them down. This match summed that up perfectly.
This was the last truly great European night at Villa Park and it’s a night we all hold close to our hearts.