Up until relegation in the 2015/2016 season, Aston Villa was ever-present in the Premier League since its inception in 1992. In the inaugural 1992/93 season, Villa spent most of the campaign as title contenders and was top of the league with only six games remaining.
However, three straight losses at the very end of the season went some way towards gifting the title to Manchester United, who ultimately finished ten points clear at the top.
For Villa, finishing the season in second place of England’s top tier of football, like they did in 1989/90 in the ‘old first division’, was still a great achievement and a fantastic way to begin life in the newly formed Premiership.
The early 90s offered a lot for fans of Villa to cheer about, finishing as Premier League runners-up in 92/93 and then winning the League Cup the following year. However, it’s the 1995/96 season that was arguably the most exciting campaign during this period.
This was the season in which the Premier League changed from the 42 game per season format to the 38 season per game format and was Villa’s first full season under the management of Brian Little. The Englishman took over in November 1994, with the club rooted to the bottom of the league, a far cry away from the dizzy heights of second, where they finished only 18 months prior to his arrival. He successfully managed to avoid relegation and was instrumental in injecting a new lease of life into what was becoming an ageing Villa squad.
In Little’s first full season, Villa managed to finish 4th in the league and also matched Liverpool’s record at the time of five league cup titles when they beat Leeds United 3-0 at Wembley to lift the trophy. Goals from Savo Milosevic, Ian Taylor and Dwight Yorke made this a comfortable victory over Leeds and returned the cup back to Villa Park, only two years after they last won it.
Villa was also very strong in the FA Cup that year, reaching the semi-finals before being eliminated by Liverpool, the eventual runners-up.
This memorable season for Villa saw the emergence of a new brand of football for the club and some very strong performances from a number of players. Initially, there were some doubts over some signings made by the new manager, most notably Savo Milosevic and whether or not he was a suitable replacement for Dean Saunders. But the former Yugoslavian striker formed a strong partnership with Dwight Yorke and quickly became a fan favourite.
Dwight Yorke finished the 1995/96 season as Villa’s top scorer with 17 in the league and 25 in all competitions. This would be the first of three seasons in a row in which the Trinidadian would finish as the club’s top scorer and he would have no doubt have scored plenty more if his desire to join Manchester United never materialised. In August 1998, after playing for Villa on the opening day of the new season, Yorke signed for United for a fee of 12.6m and ultimately became a key part of one of the best Premier League squads of all time, winning a historic treble in the process.
1995/96 also proved to be a great season for Mark Bosnich. His consistent performances between the posts resulted in him being considered as one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers of his era.
When Brian Little took over from Ron Atkinson in November 1994, he had quite a lot of work to do in ensuring the club had strong enough foundations to keep on progressing. He took over a squad full of fading stars and was successful in quickly bringing in some key new players and also giving some of the younger squad players, like Bosnich and the late Ugo Ehiogu consistent game time.
It’s not often that a team that has undergone such a significant transformation in terms of personnel gels so quickly. But in this case, it did, and the 1995/96 campaign was evidence that the transformation was a success.