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Barry gets Villa off to perfect start

Aston Villa 2 Ajax 1

Gareth Barry gave Aston Villa the ideal start to their campaign in a tough UEFA Cup group earlier tonight.

With tricky trips to Hamburg and Slavia Prague to come in Group F, manager Martin O'Neill came into the competition aware his side could ill afford to drop points at Villa Park.

Against Dutch giants Ajax, this was a convincing victory, with Barry's winner coming on the stroke of half-time after Thomas Vermaelen had cancelled out home captain Martin Laursen's early opener.

Third-string goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, got off to a nervous start and having flapped at Ashley’s Young’s corner Laursen stole inand headed int an empty net for his fourth goal of the season, but first for two months.

However, Ajax drew level in the 22nd minute.

Villa's marking was poor as Urby Emanuelson whipped an incisive corner to the edge of the six-yard box where Vermaelen thundered a header into the roof of the net.

Villa, despite facing something of an onslaught for a few minutes stuck to their task and Gabriel Agbonlahor always found himself ably supported by Young down the left and James Milner to his right, with Barry naturally pressing forward from his central midfield role.

And it was two of those players who combined to claim the win, with virtually the last kick of the opening half. Scampering down the left flank, Young managed to steer a cross into the area which centre-back Oleguer Presas Renom could only touch on to the lurking Barry.

With his trusty left foot, Barry connected with a first-time shot that curled its way into the bottom left-hand corner for his third goal this season, all of which have come in this competition.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Luke Young, Cuellar, Laursen, Shorey, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, Milner, Agbonlahor, Ashley Young.

Subs: Guzan, Sidwell, Harewood, Davies, Knight, Salifou,Gardner.

Ajax: Vermeer, Silva, Oleguer, Vermaelen, Emanuelson, Lindgren, Sarpong, Vertonghen, Suarez, Huntelaar, Gabri. Subs: Vonk, Van Der Wiel, Cvitanich, Leonardo, Sno, Anita, Schilder.

Referee: Thomas Einwaller (Austria)

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