|ESPNsoccernet: UEFA Europa League|
Aston Villa caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald hailed the impact of his young guns on a night when they kept their Europa League hopes alive.
• Rapid Vienna 1-1 Aston Villa
Villa head into next Thursday's home return leg of their play-off with Rapid Vienna on the back of a 1-1 draw at the Gerhard Hanappi Stadium. Barry Bannan, a 20-year-old Scottish midfielder, was Villa's hero with his first goal for the club, tapping home from four yards a low cross from emerging right winger Marc Albrighton.
MacDonald also handed debuts to 21-year-olds Jonathan Hogg and Eric Lichaj, and neither disappointed in an intimidating atmosphere that was generated by a 17,000-strong full house.
"I'm very proud indeed,'' said MacDonald when asked for his feelings on his young players. "It was an education for the boys, who played in patches, but I was pleased with all of them because it's not an easy place to come. But it was gratifying to score a goal away from home, with the two of them (Bannan and Albrighton) doing very well. It was a good finish, a good goal, and I'm sure you could see the elation in their faces when we did score. There's a very strong camaraderie amongst that group of players.''
How far they go could depend on whether MacDonald is handed the reins on a full-time basis as he is clearly prepared to give them a chance, whereas a new manager may not be so generous.
"They're now getting to the age of 19, 20, 21 where they need to start picking up their education and development if they want to make it into the first team,'' added MacDonald. "There has been a lot of clubs enquiring about them going on loan, but at this moment in time, with the uncertainty, it'd probably be beneficial for them to stay around and see. How far they eventually all go depends on a little bit of luck, and also the application they put in over the next few years.''
As for MacDonald, despite a European night to savour, he refused to concede whether such an occasion had whetted his appetite further.
"I still don't know about that,'' said the 49-year-old Scot. "It was good, but I don't know how good it was. Sat down there (in the dugout) you don't see everything. I'll have a look at the video because it's not just the play, it's reacting to the place you're in that gives you an education.''
There were two downsides, with young Austrian striker and Rapid fan Andreas Weimann leaving on crutches with a badly swollen ankle. Also, despite the strong, partisan support from the Rapid fans, a handful tarnished the club's reputation by throwing at goalkeeper Brad Guzan what he described as "a few lighters, some coins, and some beverages.''
Fortunately the American was not struck by any of the objects, only the liquids, with one of the lighters handed to referee Alain Hamer and in turn passed onto the fourth official.
"The referee got involved and it was up to him to get that sorted,'' said MacDonald. "When you come to these places, I'm not saying you expect objects to be thrown, but you do expect the crowd to be very vociferous in support of their home team, and very anti the opposition. That's something these players will have to learn to deal with if they want to go to the very top.''
Bannan's 12th-minute opener was cancelled out 20 minutes later by the faintest of touches off the head of Atdhe Nuhiu to a right-wing cross from captain Steffen Hofmann.
It was a deserved equaliser from a Rapid side shorn of the services of star striker Nikica Jelavic just a few hours before kick off as he will tomorrow be unveiled as a Rangers player.
"Naturally, we're very disappointed with him,'' said coach Peter Pacult. "When you find out so soon before the game he won't be playing then there is obviously disappointment. As for what kind of player Rangers will be getting, he is very strong - strong in the air, strong at one-on-one, strong at holding up the ball. Glasgow Rangers have made a good decision to sign him.''