Aston Villa FC marked their first appearance in the UEFA Cup group stage with a victory as Martin O'Neill's team saw off AFC Ajax in this meeting of two former European champions.
After Martin Laursen and Thomas Vermaelen had exchanged carbon-copy headers, Gareth Barry struck what proved the decisive goal on the cusp of half-time. Attacking until then, Villa dropped off in the second period, allowing Ajax to come on to them, but the Dutch side had no answer as the hosts claimed the Group F spoils.
The Premier League team were shorn of John Carew through illness, but if they were missing their attacking linchpin they did not show it as Laursen broke the deadlock on eight minutes, the Villa captain getting in front of keeper Kenneth Vermeer to head in Ashley Young's left-wing corner. The pair combined again soon after as a dominant Villa drove forward, the Ajax back line struggling to defend set-pieces, and it was not until 20 minutes in that Rasmus Lindgren finally mustered the visitors' first effort on goal from 35 metres.
With the same player having scored only six goals in more than 100 Eredivisie appearances, it was perhaps little surprise that Lindgren's attempt went high and wide but, two minutes later, Ajax were level. Vermaelen rose unmarked to power in Urby Emanuelson's corner and the lively Luis Suárez almost completed an unlikely turnaround from yet another set-piece before Villa settled again. Ashley Young dragged wide when well-placed but quickly made amends, chalking up his second assist of the night as he teed up Barry to sweep in from the edge of the box.
The noise levels at Villa Park increased and almost went up another notch after the interval when Vermeer denied Nicky Shorey and Laursen in quick succession. That was as lively as it got, though, as the English side backed off, Emanuelson going close when he forced Brad Friedel into a scrambling save 12 minutes from time, though Villa celebrations were muted by the sight of Gabriel Agbonlahor being carried off on a stretcher with a knee injury late on.
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