By Dan Harrison
Barry Bannan bagged an all-important away goal as a youthful Villa side battled heroically to earn a draw on a hostile evening in Vienna.
The Scotsman was one of several youngsters handed the chance to shine by Kevin MacDonald and it took him just 11 minutes to silence the deafening Austrian crowd by converting Marc Albrighton's cross.
It means Villa have a priceless away goal to take back to Villa Park for next Thursday's second leg.
Jonathan Hogg and Eric Lichaj were also handed first senior starts, while Curtis Davies and Emile Heskey returned to the fold.
Caretaker boss MacDonald will have been delighted with the response from his players in such an intimidating environment.
After taking the game to the 32-time Austrian champions, the boys in claret and blue showed terrific defensive resolve, despite being eventually breached by Atdhe Nuhiu's fortuitous effort late in the first-half.
Villa looked far from overawed by the occasion. The Gerhard Hanappi Stadium was rocking from the moment the two teams took the field.
It was going to take something a bit special for the young lions to silence the raucous Rapid die-hards.
But they came up with the perfect answer by taking an early lead.
While the hosts were reeling from Brad Guzan's stunning save to keep out Nuhiu from close range, Villa stunned them with a move straight from the academy pitches of Bodymoor Heath.
Albrighton, so productive on his inaugural top-flight start against West Ham on Saturday, added to his trio of assists by weaving his way inside from the right flank before cutting back for Bannan, who arrived in the six yard box right on queue to tuck home.
Suddenly the noise levels dropped inside one of Austria's grand old football venues.
Villa were in the ascendancy with Nigel Reo-Coker - captain for the night on his return to the side - stamping his authority in midfield and Heskey looking strong in the lone striker's role.
To their credit, Peter Pacult's men maintained their shape and, despite allowing Villa to dictate possession, they restricted them to a Davies header which went narrowly off target.
When the equaliser did arrive, though, it took a stroke of fortune.
Steffen Hofmann had produced a series of dangerous crosses from the right and, on 33 minutes, his inswinging left-foot cross was helped into the far corner of the net via the faintest of touches from Nuhiu.
The first-half momentum briefly swung in Vienna's favour and the lively Hofmann saw his long-range effort deflect wide , while Guzan's handling was exemplary to keep out the Vienna's skipper's curling free-kick just before the break.
The claret and blues regained the initiative following the restart. Albrighton cut back inside on to his left foot and fired a stinging shot, which Raimund Hedl could only gather at the second attempt.
Minutes later, Heskey leapt highest to head Stewart Downing's corner into the danger area but somehow the Vienna defence managed to hack clear form inside the six-yard box.
From there on, it was a test of Villa's concentration and defensive solidity.
A new-look back four, comprising Lichaj, Davies, Stephen Warnock and Habib Beye, were outstanding in restricting Rapid, who piled on the pressure late in the contest.
Guzan can also be proud of his performance. The American made two more fine saves in the second period, firstly beating away Veli Kavlak's long-range effort, before standing tall to thwart Rene Gartler in a one-on-one situation.
MacDonald felt the needs to freshen things up in the closing stages, introducing strikers Nathan Delfouneso and Vienna-born Andreas Weimann.
However, Weimann's homecoming cruelly ended within five minutes when he went down after a tackle from Kavlak in the right hand corner.
Overall, though, Villa will take many positives this play-off first leg and are in a great position to qualify for the Europa League group stages.