Fluke of Yorke

FOOTBALL

Any game decided by a single penalty is bound to be deemed unsatisfactory, but the term would be an undue compliment to this match. As the pay-per- view era dawns, this would have been one spectacle to have domestic subscribers demanding their money back.

True, they would have needed several action replays to detect the offence which created Aston Villa's match-winning penalty six minutes before the interval, because most of the crowd seemed baffled by the decision.

But the cameras finally picked up an innocuous tug on the left sleeve of Dwight Yorke by the former Villa defender Neil Cox, which seemed unlikely to have caused Yorke to drop dramatically on one knee as he did.

The Tobagan striker duly stroked home the penalty low past Gary Walsh's right hand, but the sourness of the incident infected the remainder of the match.

"All I saw was the reaction of the Villa team," the Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson said afterwards. "And they didn't even appeal for it."

Grievances aside, this defeat extended Boro's winless run of Premiership games to nine, their last victory coming at Everton on 14 September. They were without their Brazilian engine Emerson again yesterday as he completed the last game of his suspension, and Alan Wright's crude foul on Juninho on the hour removed Boro's main creative force with an ankle injury.

Villa's energy in midfield - supplied by Mark Draper, Andy Townsend and Ian Taylor - stifled most of Middlesbrough's attempts to get forward with the home goalkeeper Michael Oakes not even called into serious action until well into the second half when Phil Stamp swerved past two challenges and drove a shot straight at him.

At the other end of the field, the main focus of interest was the form of the one foreign player who very nearly did get away recently, the Italian transfer reject Savo Milosevic.

There are those who see the Yugoslav striker as a sort of Stan Laurel to Yorke's Oliver Hardy, so many are the poor touches and pratfalls which he normally produces. But to his credit Milosevic had a header and a pass in the build-up to the penalty and posed more of a threat as the game went on.

For Villa, now out of two competitions, a win was vital to restore credibility to their failing Premiership challenge. "We needed to get a few results like this," Brian Little conceded, "even if it was a sloppy one."

Boro, meanwhile, will cling to the Coca-Cola Cup to keep the fizz in their season.

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