One of the most demoralising things about the third round draw for Villa in the first decade of the new millennium was having to wait with baited breath to see whether we were going to be knocked out by Manchester United. In four of the seven years from 2002 and 2008 Villa suffered defeat to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and after a while, I can’t lie, it got bloody annoying.
The first such defeat, in 2002, was the worst as Villa had the game utterly under control in the second half thanks to Ian Taylor’s opener and Phil Neville’s comical own goal. When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pulled one back with seven minutes remaining the nerves set in, and the six-yard goal machine that was Ruud van Nistelrooy (Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero once famously claimed that even when the Dutchman farted he seemed to score) came off the bench to net twice in the space of three minutes in the closing stages to turn the game on its head. If you inexplicably want to put yourself through the pain of reliving that match, the highlights are below.
Two years later Villa lost 2-1 at home to the Red Devils after once again having gone in front, Gareth Barry’s deflected opener counting for nothing as Paul Scholes scored twice in four second-half minutes. After two seasons’ break, the football gods decided that we’d had enough time off and threw the two clubs together again, with Solskjaer’s injury-time winner condemning O’Neill’s Villa to yet another defeat, and with their schadenfreude not yet fully satisfied they came up with a repeat the following year, which Villa lost 2-0. Happy times.
At least in all the years we were losing to Ferguson’s side, it was arguably the best team in Britain knocking us out. In between those first two defeats to United, Villa suffered their heaviest third-round defeat of the 21st century when they lost 4-1 at Villa Park to Blackburn Rovers. Dwight Yorke played the pantomime villain by scoring twice in the second half and Matt Jansen (remember him?) scored his own second after Juan Pablo Angel had cancelled out his first-half opener.
However, the real third-round low points came at the hands of Sheffield United, nearly a decade apart. In 2005, Villa crashed out at their first stage of the competition for the fourth year in a row as Blades striker Andy Liddell netted twice in the final eight minutes to secure a 3-1 victory for the then-Championship side after Barry had given David O’Leary (remember him?) a lead to protect immediately after half-time.
If that was bad, then the rematch in 2014 under Paul Lambert, this time at Villa Park, was worse. The Yorkshire side had been relegated to the third tier three years earlier and were involved in a battle to avoid the drop to League Two at the time, but what was fast becoming a tradition of humiliating exits in cup competitions under the former Norwich boss continued as Ryan Flynn struck a late winner for the visitors just six minutes after Nicklas Helenius (remember him?) had equalised with his only goal for Villa.
That defeat crowned possibly the worst moment of Villa’s participation in the FA Cup since the millennium (unless you count the cup final no-show in May, but at least we got there). Let’s hope for better tidings on Saturday, for a chink of light in the darkness of this most miserable of seasons.
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