In the inaugural Premier League season, Ron Atkinson led Villa to a second-place finish.
Nowadays, such a position would guarantee football in Europe’s finest competition, the Champions League (then the European Cup). However, in 1993, second place only received gateway to the UEFA Cup. It was here that Villa faced Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) in the first round.
First Round, First Leg
Slovan Bratislava 0-0 Aston Villa
15th September 1993, Tehelne Pole, 10,886
In an uneventful score draw, Villa players were incensed by an incident ten minutes after half-time. Dalian Atkinson bolted onto a back-pass in the direction of Vencel, in the opposition goal, and when the nervous-looking keeper allowed the ball to squirm between his legs, Atkinson prodded the ball past him. With the goal at Villa’s mercy, Vencel appeared to trip Atkinson over before clearing the ball to safety.
The referee saw no wrong-doing and Villa were denied the chance from 12 yards.
With fewer chances at either end the longer the game endured, Villa players were confident that in the return match, on home soil, they would be able to win the tie with ease. That was until Big Ron had his say.
“As we prepare for this second leg I shall be reminding our players just how hard they had to work to get themselves into Europe”
“Having achieved that objective by finishing runners-up to Manchester United in the Premier League there’s no way that we should now take progress for granted.”
As he continued in his programme notes a fortnight later, he printed in capital letters,
“A GOALESS DRAW AWAY FROM HOME IS FAIR ENOUGH. BUT IT IS NOT A WINNING SCORELINE”
Big favourites to progress, Atkinson drilled some rational into his players as they prepared to face Slovan again.
First Round, Second Leg
Aston Villa 2-1 Slovan Bratislava
29th September 1993, Villa Park, 24,461
Whether they’d read the managers notes or not, the Villa players were rooted with conviction on the night of the reverse fixture. Determined to advance in the competition, Villa were racing ahead after just 20 minutes.
Courtesy of Dalian Atkinson and Andy Townsend, Villa led the game (and the tie) 2-0 not long after the Slovan players had even touched down in Birmingham.
In truth, as the game continued Villa should have scored many more. For all their misses, they nearly paid a hefty price!
Dusan Tittel shot from distance and with the aid of a deflection, he caught Spink off guard. A nervous final five minutes played out in front of the B6 terraces but eventually, the full-time whistle assured claret and blue passage to the next round.
Second Round, First Leg
Deportivo La Coruna 1-1 Aston Villa
19th October 1993, Riazor, 11,237
Ron Atkinson has been a football man all his life. Having made almost 400 appearances as a player, he managed 11 football clubs during an illustrious career. Include his media work too and it’s obvious that here is a man who has seen it all in football.
In fact, one of the greatest things he claims to have witnessed on a football pitch was in this game in Northern Spain.
In the third minute of the game, after Shaun Teale had cost his side a penalty, Villa’s Australian goalkeeper was on hand to deliver the heroics on his European debut.
Brazilian striker Bebeto smashed his penalty high towards the top-left hand corner of the goal in what looked like a textbook penalty. To the shock of all those spectating, Mark Bosnich flew across and kept the ball out of his net!
His manager commented on the moment after the game.
“The best save I’ve ever seen”, he revealed.
“That save was unreal”.
Such feats from the man in goal looked to have inspired the Villa players when Dean Saunders ran forward to put Villa ahead in the 80th minute.
Unfortunately, a later goal from the hosts in the 87th minute left Villa jetting back to the midlands with only a draw.
However, as proved in the first round, a draw was far from a disappointing result on the road in Europe. In fact, Villa were placed in a better position than they had been against Slovan due to the precious away goal that Saunders had secured.
Second Round, Second Leg
Aston Villa 0-1 Deportivo La Coruna
3rd November 1993, Villa Park, 26,737
On a cold night in the midlands, Villa were outdone by the fiery, fast-paced flare that the Spaniards ignited Villa Park with.
In a series of man-marking mistakes, no Villa player latched onto the overlapping run on the Villa right. The ball was crossed into the box for the powerful header of Manjarin Pereda – who had escaped the grasps of Paul McGrath.
It wasn’t to be that night for Villa as they struggled to gain any real foothold in proceedings. Eventually, they bowed out of the competition thanks to the 1-0 loss at home, leading to the 2-1 defeat on aggregate.
In his post-match conference, Ron Atkinson stated that his players “should feel ashamed”. Such a loss was the managers first ever home defeat in European competition.
Despite the European set-back, silverware was still attained by Villa come the end of the season. The famous 1994 League cup victory over Manchester United guaranteed another year UEFA engagements.