Aston Villa began their 1998/99 UEFA Cup campaign by welcoming Norwegian side Stromsgodset to Villa Park.
First Round, First Leg
Aston Villa 3-2 Stromsgodset
15th September 1998, Villa Park, 28,893
In what should’ve been a routine victory over the then semi-professional team of Southern Norway, Villa struggled to find a breakthrough early on.
In fact, by the 20’ minute, Stromsgodset had opened the scoring! A shot rebounding off the helpless Mark Bosnich fell straight into the path of the onrushing Anders Michelsen, who scored for the underdogs.
The visitors leading by a goal as B6 held its breath. Stromsgodset attacked down the right flank – cutting the ball in from the byline, there was Christer George to make it two! A moment to forget for the Villa defenders who allowed George’s run into the penalty box to go unmarked.
John Gregory needed a reaction as his team headed out for the second half. Indeed he got one, though it may have taken a little longer than anticipated.
Gary Charles scoring from close-range in the 83’ minute reared claret and blue hope. Coinciding with the full-back’s goal was the introduction from the bench of striker Darius Vassell. A player who had recently made his first-team debut for the club.
In what followed, the textbook definition of a ‘super-sub‘ was born. As the game entered its final minute, Vassell scored an equalizer to finally restore scoreboard clarity. But with some supporters headed for the exits, Vassell still had another goal in sight! To secure a home victory by the finest of margins, he bundled a last gasp effort over the line after the keeper could only palm the ball into his path.
After all, Villa would take an advantage into the second leg.
First Round, Second Leg
Stromsgodset 0-3 Aston Villa
29th September 1998, Marienlyst, 4,845
If the first meeting between the two sides had escaped the confines of the script, the reverse fixture in Norway certainly did not.
The bravery and desire of the home side failed to overturn the overriding scoreline. Villa’s quality enabled them to take an early lead – resulting in a commanding victory.
Stan Collymore cutting in on his right foot before unleashing a shot high into the far corner began proceedings. Setting the precedent for the match, Collymore went on to score a second soon after the 20-minute mark. Once again, the goalkeeper was left sprawling as Collymore pounced onto a rebound following Ian Taylor’s shot.
His third goal of the afternoon was a classic poacher’s finish. Prodding the ball in from a yard out after Julian Joachim crossed into the area, Collymore became the third player to score a hat-trick in European competition for Aston Villa.
Second Round, First Leg
Celta De Vigo 0-1 Aston Villa
20th October 1998, Balaidos, 28,000
This tie was to prove more testing for Villa. Celta Vigo were a team with renowned quality across Europe. However, the performance Gregory’s men achieved on the night was one of the greatest Villa performances on foreign shores.
Julian Joachim scored his first European goal in the 14’ minute, inviting waves of Spanish attacks to mount on the Villa goal.
Nevertheless, Villa resistance held firm and the ultimate ‘smash-and-grab’ victory was attained. Heading back to Villa Park, would the fusion of home terraces mixed with the aggerate lead be enough to see Villa progress?
After league form had begun to deteriorate, manager John Gregory was hoping of a European night to remember, in order to reignite Villa’s season…
Second Round, Second Leg
Aston Villa 1-3 Celta De Vigo
3rd November 1998, Villa Park, 29,910
The night Gregory had hoped for never looked like arriving. From the first whistle the Spanish influence upon the game was clear for all to see. Controlling possession throughout the opening exchanges, Celta Vigo scored that precious away goal on the 27’ minute. Although, replays show the goal scorer – Juan Sanchez Moreno – clearly received the ball in an offside position. Even more controversial as Stan Collymore had seen an early header ruled out for a marginal offence of the same kind.
Perhaps through channeling his fury, Collymore scored a penalty minutes after the visitors found their breakthrough. With the tie now favoring Villa again, Celta Vigo needed further quality to overcome their hosts.
Scoring a free kick of more than 20 yards signaled the Spaniards intent. Couple this with a goal early into the second half, Villa’s grip on their opponents had faded away.
For the remaining 40 minutes, the home side couldn’t trouble the visiting goalkeeper enough to find a route back into the contest.
After beating Villa, Celta Vigo went on to conquer Liverpool in the next round. Eventually, they lost out to eventual runners-up, Olympique Marseille.
Another European crusade resulting in no silverware for the Villans. The next steps the club took in UEFA competition would be in the Intertoto Cup.