7 August ~ Aston Villa begin their first season outside the top flight since 1987-88 today when they visit Sheffield Wednesday, a match which brings to mind another opening day clash between the two at Hillsborough.
In the summer of 1991 Ron Atkinson, who had just led Wednesday to promotion from the Second Division and victory in the League Cup final over Manchester United (the Owls’ first post-war trophy), walked out on the club to join Villa. Naturally, the fixture computer paired the two teams on the opening day and Ron Atkinson received an extremely hostile reception at a packed Hillsborough, with chants of “Judas” from the home supporters. Aston Villa fans that day were the first to be housed in the reopened, now all-seat, Leppings Lane end since the 1989 disaster.
Trevor Francis was in charge of Wednesday as player-manager and it took just three minutes for his team to take the lead, when David Hirst – who had won his first England cap over the summer during the national team’s tour of Australasia – hit a rasping left-footed shot into the top corner in front of the Kop. Danny Wilson made it 2-0 to the hosts in the 37th minute, driving home a cross from Hirst after the striker had evaded several defenders. However, just before half time Villa debutant Cyrille Regis capitalised when England keeper Chris Woods, playing his first match for the Owls, flapped at a cross and gave the visitors hope.
In the 56th minute a neat pass by Regis sent Paul Mortimer clean through and former Wednesday striker Dalian Atkinson tapped in to level the scores after Woods parried the initial shot. The game remained open until the 86th minute when Wednesday were pushing forward. They had appeals for a penalty turned down and were caught on the counter by the pace of Dalian Atkinson, who crossed to an unmarked Steve Staunton (another debutant) and the game was won.
Villa went on the finish seventh that season but Ron Atkinson did lead them to second the following year and a League Cup trophy in 1994. Wednesday, meanwhile, got over their opening day disappointment to finish third, their highest finish since 1961.