Depleted Villa do just enough

Notts County 0 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online
With home advantage in Wednesday's replay, injury-hit Villa should secure their place in the FA Cup fourth round although there were some uneasy moments for the Premiership side in last night's rearranged tie. Their Second Division opponents belied their current status as relegation candidates with some good, well organised football. The eventual winners will meet Gillingham or Derby.

Villa's health going into the tie was hardly the best, with marksman Dwight Yorke among four players ruled out by injury. Ian Taylor and Mark Draper, who began his career at Meadow Lane, were also missing and Riccardo Scimeca, normally employed as a central defender, had to adjust to the different demands of playing wing-back in place of Fernando Nelson.

At least Villa have a manager, which is more than can be said for last night's opponents, who sacked Colin Murphy and Steve Thompson at Christmas. Their duties are temporarily shared between the coach, Mark Smith, and two of last night's team, Tony Agana and Gary Strodder.

Against opposition from two levels below their own, Villa were ready for the banana skin factor but the element of chance was made greater by a surface that was noticeably frosty soon after the start. It made accurate shooting difficult, but when the ball was kept down it was goalkeepers who needed to be wary.

County were always purposeful in possession, but with Savo Milosevic twice going close Villa seemed to be dictating matters. It was a surprise, then, that the home side should bring off the best move of the first half when Phil Robinson, playing a one-two with Sean Farrell, forced a fingertip save from Mark Bosnich and a hurried clearance from Gareth Southgate.

The referee was not slow to punish any misdemeanour, booking Tommy Johnson and Strodder for fouls and Andy Townsend for dissent before issuing yellow cards also to Farrell and Carl Tiler after a skirmish involving several players just before half-time.

County, next to bottom of their section, clearly were not frightened by anything Villa had revealed in the first period and if anything it was they who looked more likely to break the deadlock early in the second. Villa's right flank was looking suspect and crosses from that side produced headers for Steve Finnan and Robinson, although neither tested Bosnich.

Villa suffered another blow in terms of personnel when Steve Staunton limped off but his replacement, Lee Hendrie, at least provided a gee-up when he prompted an immediate attack, although Julian Joachim's claim for a penalty against Ian Baraclough always looked optimistic.

Joachim was close to putting Villa ahead when his outstretched leg diverted Johnson's cross a foot wide and again when his flick with his back to goal was booted off the line by Chris Wilder.

To this the home side summoned a spirited response and Ugo Ehiogu now had to clear on his goal-line from Robinson's shot after Finnan's initial effort had been blocked.

Notts County (4-4-2): Ward; Wilder, Rennie, Strodder, Baraclough; Robinson, Finnan, Derry (Galloway, 86), Agana (Walker, 79); Farrell (Battersby, 73), Martindale.

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Scimeca, Ehiogu, Southgate, Tiler, Wright; Johnson, Staunton (Hendrie, 54), Townsend; Joachim, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Farrelly, Oakes (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).