AVILLAFAN XI – Ron Atkinson

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After completing our team from 1990 to present from your votes, we decided to run a vote on your manager to take control of what is a great looking side.

The votes were as follows:

Ron Atkinson – 41%

Brian Little – 17%

John Gregory – 21%

Martin O’Neill – 21%

Ron Atkinson

Ron Atkinson took over the managerial reins from Jozef Venglos, in 1991.

He came with numerous honours in the form of two FA Cups and a Charity Shield whilst at Manchester United in the early-mid eighties and a League Cup win with Sheffield Wednesday the season before moving to Villa Park.

Atkinson’s first season in charge would see Villa finish in 7th place which was a huge improvement on the previous season in which the club finished only two places above the relegation zone.

In Atkinson’s second season at the helm he led the club to second place in what was the first season of the newly established FA Premier League.

The turn around from a few seasons ago built the Villa faithful’s regard for Atkinson who was affectionately known as Big Ron by everyone and anyone!

Club legend Paul McGrath has been bought in and his leadership in central defence also led him to winning the PFA Player of the Year award.

The runners-up position also meant European football returning to Villa Park in the form of the UEFA Cup.

The 1993-1994 season would see Villa finish 10th in the Premier League and in the UEFA Cup, a first round win over Slovan Bratislava would be followed up with defeat against Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna.

However, the biggest success would be in the League Cup.

Taking on old foes Birmingham City, the format of the competition meant Villa entered in the second round and ties were played over two legs.

Villa would beat Birmingham City 1-0 in both games with the winners coming from Kevin Richardson and Dean Saunders before travelling to Roker Park in round three to take on Sunderland. (Now a single leg format).

A 4-1 win with goals from Kevin Richardson, Ray Houghton and a brace from Dalian Atkinson over the Black Cats would mean a difficult fourth round tie at Highbury against Arsenal.

An early Dalian Atkinson goal was enough to see Villa progress 1-0 and were again drawn away, this time at White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham Hotspur in the quarter-finals.

Ray Houghton and Earl Barrett both scored to see Villa win 2-1 and as if fate would have it, the semi-final draw would include Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday, the two clubs at which Atkinson had won honours as a manager.

However, Villa would draw First Division side Tranmere Rovers which was seen as an open door to the final by many pundits and fans.

This is Aston Villa though.

The first leg took place at Prenton Park and incredibly Villa went 3-0 down to the underdogs when John Aldridge scored in the 78th minute.

Dalian Atkinson scored a last minute consolation which would prove to be crucial as Villa went back to Villa Park with a 3-1 defecit to overturn.

In front of a packed Villa Park everything was going to plan as Dean Saunders put Villa ahead in the 19th minute and just four minutes later a diving header from Shaun Teale meant the defecit had been closed with more than an hour left to play.

However, on the half an hour mark, John Aldridge was brought down by goalkeeper Mark Bosnich and it was a huge moment as a penalty was given and many were fearing a red card for Bosnich.

Bosnich would stay on but Aldridge would dispatch the penalty and it was 4-3 on aggregate to Tranmere Rovers.

With time ticking down and only three minutes to go, Villa found a dramatic late goal through Dalian Atkinson to seal a 3-1 win, meaning 4-4 on aggregate and extra time.

Without a goal in extra came the penalty shootout in front of the Tranmere Rovers fans at the North Stand.

The first five penalties were all scored meaning Villa led 3-2 and then a save from Bosnich gave Villa the advantage.

After four penalties each Villa led 4-3 but with a chance to seal a place at Wembley, Ugo Ehiogu hit the bar and John Aldridge scored to make it 4-4 and sudden death.

Kevin Richardson blazed his penalty over the bar and Liam O’Brien now had the opportunity to win the game for Tranmere Rovers.

Bosnich saved again before Tony Daley scored his penalty.

5-4 Villa.

Ian Nolan was the next player to try and rescue the game and incredibly Bosnich saved again to send Villa to Wembley.

The final would see Villa take on Manchester United, firm favourites who beat Villa to the title the previous season.

It was a chance for some sort of revenge but it would be a huge ask against an incredibly well constructed side with the likes of Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and the defensive maturity of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister amongst others.

But this would be Villa’s day as goals from Dalian Atkinson and Dean Saunders put them 2-0 up.

Mark Hughes reduced the defecit with 7 minutes to go but in injury time, Andrei Kanchelskis handled on the line meaning a straight red card and a penalty which Dean Saunders put away to seal a 3-1 win.

Despite leading Villa to their first major success since their 1982 European Cup and subsequent European Super Cup triumphs, a mutual dislike between Villa chairman Doug Ellis and Atkinson that developed from 1992, inevitably resulted in him parting ways in November 1994.

Before his departure there was one last famous night at Villa Park as Big Ron’s team would take on Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup.

A side with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Ruben Sosa, Nicola Berti and goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca were always going to be tough and Villa lost the away leg 1-0.

However, Villa would win the home leg 1-0 with a goal from Ray Houghton and eventually it would be penalty drama again.

The unlikely hero was Phil King who slammed home the winning kick to send Villa Park into raptures.

Atkinson’s second place in the 1992-1993 season remains the highest-ever finish by an English manager in the Premier League, subsequently equalled by Kevin Keegan in 1995–96.

To this day Big Ron is held in high regard by many a Villa fan and on a personal note it was the first team I started to watch as a child.

A worthy manager of the AVILLAFAN XI.

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