The chances of either Aston Villa or Fulham joining the three other English clubs in this year’s UEFA Cup were dealt a severe blow at the weekend.
Under-strength Villa left themselves with a mountain to climb after conceding a late goal against FC Zurich. Seven minutes from time, a mistake from stand-in centre back Dion Dublin left keeper Peter Enckelman stranded and home striker Ursal Wysar gleefully stroked the ball home to make it 2-0.
The player’s delight was short-lived when he received two yellow cards in quick succession for exaggerated celebrations and dissent. Soon to follow the Swiss striker down the tunnel was Villa’s J lloyd Samuel. A clumsy challenge by the England U-21 international led to his second caution of the game.
Despite his obvious disappointment at the lacklustre performance, Villa manager Graham Taylor was quick to point out that fans coming to the home leg on Saturday would see an altogether different side.
“We know we are better than this. The two goals have made it difficult for us next week – but victory is not beyond us,” said Taylor.
“On a positive front, we created a few chances but this was our first match and I will have eight more players available for selection next week.”
Villa went behind in the 32nd minute when teenager Alhassane Keita struck for the home side. Although the second goal was a blow to Villa’s chances of reaching the semi-finals, it was no more than their Swiss opposition deserved.
Fulham still goal-shy The familiar looks of bewilderment and worry returned to the faces of the 5,000 or so fans at Craven Cottage on Saturday. A single goal victory over the side that finished tenth in the Greek league gives little cause for optimism.
With only a 77th minute strike from Frenchman Louis Saha to show for all their promising approach work, it is easy to see why Fulham managed a meagre 36 goals last season. Less simple, however, is a solution to the problem.
“We’ve got the players here to score the goals,” admitted player-coach John Collins, “it’s just a matter of building confidence, getting a few lucky goals, and taking it from there.”
To add to the Cottager’s woes ahead of the return leg in Greece on Saturday, is the current feeling of unrest coming from manager Jean Tigana. He recently demanded showdown talks with Chairman Mohamed Al Fayed over his future and is rumoured to be disappointed with the club’s handling of the failed attempt to sign Dutch winger Victor Sikora.
An early exit from the InterToto Cup will not, however, help the ex-Monaco manager’s cause.
One of the most exciting games of the third round saw VfB Stuttgart run out 3-1 winners against Serie A side Perugia.
After going a goal down in the first 15 minutes, the German outfit produced a commanding second half display with goals from Marcelo Bordon, IoanGanea and finally Joachen Seitz. Brazilian-born Bordon’s spectacular overhead strike was the pick of the bunch.
Bologna and Torino, Italy’s other representatives in the competition, both enjoyed a more successul by winning 2-0. Goals from Julio Cruz and Claudio Belluci at the end of each half gave Bologna the upper-hand in their tie against BATE Borisov of Belarus.
Meanwhile Torino, despite losing goal-scoring defender Gianluca Camotto for a second bookable offence, held on to their two-goal lead against a plucky Villarreal side.
A late away goal from Pavel Horvath gave FK Teplice a glimmer of hope in their tie with Kaiserslautern. Two exquisite first-half goals from German World Cup star Mario Basler seemed to have put the Germans in the driving seat, before Horvath’s penalty in the last minute of play.
FC Synot, still buoyant after their convincing second-round win over Helsingborg, were brought crashing down to earth by French U-21 international Pierre-Alain Frau. The young striker scored either side of the break for home side Sochaux-Montbeliard, with Johann Lonfat adding a third just minutes before the end. Though the French will be confident, they will have to be wary of the Czech team who, in their last match at home, put four past Helsingborg.
VfB Stuttgart 3 – 1 Perugia
Fulham 1 – 0 Egaleo
Gloria 0 – 2 Lille
Bologna 2 – 0 BATE Borisov
Malaga 3 – 0 Gent
Malaga: Valdes (2), Canabal
Marek 0 – 3 Slaven Belupo
Synot 0 – 3 Sochaux-Montbeliard
Torino 2 – 0 Villarreal
Zurich 2 – 0 Aston Villa
Kaiserslautern 2 – 1 Teplice
Krylya Sovetov 3 – 1 Willem II
2nd leg ties are due to be played on Saturday, July 27.