Last weekend’s victory perfectly lays the groundwork for Villa’s first competitive European fixture since the 2010/11 season. It’s a fact that seems surprising, if only for the time that has elapsed and the difficulties that the club found itself in after colossal errors both on and off the field in the intervening years.
Some will of course remember winning the European Cup. But for many, European competition, whilst no less alluring, represented at best an interesting diversion from the league and domestic cups.
It was in typical Villa fashion a rollercoaster journey from Helsingborgs to Hamburg, with the latter setting Martin O’Neil on his inevitable demise. A Collymore wonder strike against Atletico Madrid in 1998, defeating Ajax at Villa Park in 2008 and suffering consecutive defeats to Rapid Vienna in 2009 and 2010. We take the rough with the smooth.
Qualifying for the Europa Conference League, lazily derided by some, is the right platform and opportunity for Villa here and now. It wasn’t so long ago that our excitement peaked at the prospect of a new away day, such as Burton Albion. Indeed, it was only last season that the huge miss-step in appointing Steven Gerrard saw the club lurch precariously at the wrong end of the Premier League table.Embed from Getty Images
Much has changed since then as Villa have once more taken on another form, this time under the studious Unai Emery. The footballing improvements, long overdue, are notable. The achievement of managing to qualify for European football, secured on the final day of the 2022/23 campaign, was quite something from where we were.
Hopefully our first of many opponents are Hibernian. Villa cannot risk complacency and must be professional across two legs in order to reach the group stages of the competition. What a balls up it would be to mess this chance up now.
Hibs have started the domestic campaign poorly, suffering defeats to both Motherwell and St Mirren. Lee Johnson, former manager of Bristol City, had little positive to say about Villa during our time together in The Championship. Johnson, often outspoken in his comments, never recovered from being ‘mocked‘ at Villa Park as his side were humiliated 5-0 on New Years Day in 2018.
Despite early season struggles for Hibs, it hasn’t been all bad. Victory over two legs against Swiss side Luzern was well earned and backed up with a win over Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup on Sunday.
Villa will be roared on by a travelling contingent of just over 1000 and arrive reinvigorated after the comfortable win over Everton. Whilst Johnson has expressed his concerns about fixture congestion already, this is certainly a factor that Emery must also consider. Burnley are next up on Sunday, with the reverse against Hibs arriving quickly the following Thursday.Embed from Getty Images
We are hampered also by dreadful misfortune in terms of injury. Philippe Coutinho is the latest casualty after the squad was rocked by two ACL injuries in a week sustained by Tyrone Mings and Emi Buendia. We cannot afford to sustain any more injuries to key players, that’s for sure.
If nothing else it’s a welcome return to European football, competitive in nature and against new opposition who are familiar if only by name. Roll on 5:45pm Wednesday night, and welcome back European football.
- Hibs defeat FC Luzern 5-3 on aggregate in round 3.
- Villa captain returns to the club he left in 2018.
- Unai Emery has won 4 Europa League titles as a manager.
- UK viewers can watch the game on BBC Scotland on TV or iPlayer.
- Kick off is 5:45pm to avoid Champions League clashes.
- Inter Club D’Escaldes (Andorran minnows) beat Hibs 201 in July.
- Both sides have never faced each other competitively before.
- It’s Villa’s first European game against a Scottish side.
- If you are looking for Free Bets UK then Hibernian are as big as 20/1 [at Bet365] to qualify while the same firm has them at a hefty 10/1 for a win at Easter Road.
- Villa are 1/16 to reach the group stages while the same firm price us at 2/7 for a victory in Leith. A stalemate in the first leg pays 9/2 with most firms.