Date: 25th August 2010 at 5:12pm
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The dramatic story of two debuts in the Europa League, coming soon to a cinema near you.

Our opening leg of the Europa League Qualifier against Rapid Vienna was interesting for more than one reason, but here I shall talk of only two of them.

Eric Lichaj and Jonathan Hogg.

It was the competitive debuts of both young lads in a Villa shirt, albeit both having gained their football debuts away from the club, but we shall start with Eric simply because he’s the little more known.

Eric’s debut story was marked by popcorn. Sadly Mr Brown on the Official Site has already used the King of all puns here (so not for the first time I’m stuck), in stating:

‘Eric Lichaj was pelted with popcorn on his debut in the Europa League trailer against Rapid Vienna and he can’t think of anything butter now than a standing ovation after a starring role in the second leg Villa Park sequel.’

Popcorn-butter….I salute you Sir.

Anyhoo, Lichaj was delighted to have opened his claret and blue appearance record and doubts he’ll experience many games with that level of intimidation again, so coming through it with Villa maintaining the upper hand in the two-legged affair has delighted him.

‘It was a really good atmosphere in Austria. All the Vienna fans were jumping up and down, they were actually throwing popcorn at me at one point and I think they were throwing beer at Brad.

It was too bad we couldn’t hold on for the win but it was a good, solid draw.’

The only regret Lichaj seems to have is in not being able to taste test the popcorn.

‘I didn’t get a chance to sample any of the popcorn after the game!’

Sensible lad, professional athlete, I’d have been horrified to read he was after the beer and was wringing out Guzan’s shirt for every drop.

Lichaj is also full of confidence ahead of the second leg, the Villa youngsters certainly rose to the occasion (popcorn-rise it’s the best I can do after the butter jibe went early) and he sees no reason at all as to why we can’t dominate on home soil and put the game out of their reach.

‘I think we have the upper hand going into the return leg. They didn’t really water the pitch before the game out there, it was stickier for the way they wanted to play – but now then pitch is waters and we can use our flanks more. That is really our strength, so I think we have a very good chance of going through.

The other debut story comes from the very surprise inclusion of young Jonathan Hogg – he was a certainly a name very few, if anybody, expected to read on the teamsheet last Thursday. Those left out may have felt a little prejudice towards him, but he felt nothing but pride! (yay corny!)

Speaking on the Official Site in his own little post match interview, young Hogg was absolutely delighted to have been considered by Kevin MacDonald given the injuries he’s suffered so far in his short career.

Hogg has been out to the States numerous times to see Martin Laursen’s old friend, and experienced surgeon Dr Richard Steadman with a recurring right knee problem.

In March 2008 during a reserve clash, he suffered a severe cruciate ligament injury that left him on the sidelines for 11 months and once he returned to action and started to impress an unfortunate training ground collision with Luke Young left him out for another 5 months.

‘My debut in Austria was the end of a long journey for me, when you look at the injuries I’ve been through. If you would have said to me two yeas ago I’d make my debut in Vienna, with the state my knee was in, I’d have said ‘no chance’.

‘I loved every minute of it and I am just grateful for the opportunity Kev gave me really.’

Hogg also admitted that man mountain Martin Laursen had plenty of words of wisdom during his spell on the sidelines, given what he was/went through himself.

‘He had a few words with me to tell me to keep working hard and to keep thinking positive. Because he’d had similar injuries he’d been through the same programmes and he knew what was hard and what was easy. He really helped me through it, it was really nice.’

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