MERSE STRIKE MAKES IT ADVANTAGE VILLA
By Stephen Bateman
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Paul Merson put the visitors ahead fifteen minutes into the second half, before Christian Gimenez drew his side level with the simplest of chances in the 75th minute.
Villa boss John Gregory's decision to omit the in-form David Ginola from the starting eleven, electing to play Dion Dublin as a lone striker, gave a firm indication of his side's intentions for the evening, while Basel lined up in an agressive looking 3-4-3 formation.
In spite of the home side's posturing, however, the game got off to an understated start, with both teams looking circumspect as they ensured that no crucial early goals were conceded.
Sadly, there was little danger of any such excitement and, as the two sides cancelled each other out in an over-populated midfield, the formerly high-spirited home supporters steadily began to grow more and more restless.
Not that the travelling contingent of Villa fans had anything to get over-excited about either, as both sides battoned down the hatches and prepared for a long night.
Peter Enckelman marshalled his defence with aplomb, while his FC Basel couterpart, Pascal Zuberbuhler, was little more than an occasionally interested spectator.
With Gregory being by far the happier of the two managers, the first-half finally petered out with the tie remaining deadlocked at 0-0.
Frustratingly, the second-half began much in the same vein as the first, but slowly Villa began to gain control of the play, and they eventually took a 60th minute lead.
Veteran midfielder Merson was on hand to slot the ball home when Zuberbuhler failed to deal with a ferocious shot from summer signing Hassan Kachloul.
The goal seemed to settle Villa but their composure was soon to collapse inwards upon them when they gifted the Swiss side an equaliser.
Christian Gimenez pounced on an error by Enckelman before coolly slotting the ball home from close range to restore parity.
The Villans will not be at all displeased with their night's work, though, as the crucial away goal should be enough to ensure a route into the Uefa Cup when the two teams renew acquaintances at Villa Park in a fortnight's time.