Football / Coca-Cola Cup Final: Saunders destroys United's dream: Aston Villa's master plan puts paid to Ferguson's malfunctioning Big Red Machine as Kanchelskis is dismissed

Aston Villa. . . . . . . .3

Manchester United. . . . .1

No historic treble, then, and the doubts invading those worried United minds took a stronger hold last night when Ron Atkinson filled the Coca-Cola Cup with fizzy stuff of the more expensive variety before carrying it off to Villa Park.

One down, two to go. Thwarted by his managerial predecessor, Alex Ferguson was left to concentrate on the real thing: the classic 'double'.

The Villa hordes raucously told United that they were going to win FA, which we can safely assume was not a reference to the most famous cup of all, and they could be right. One win in six games suggests that there is now a real chance of a season which promised so much ending in tears, and the FA Cup date with Oldham Athletic in two weeks' time is looking more problematical by the day, with players dropping out quicker than you can say red card.

Andrei Kanchelskis, sent off in the last minute yesterday for handling a goalbound shot from Dalian Atkinson, is automatically suspended for the semi-final, along with Eric Cantona and Roy Keane.

Bad could soon become worse. The 15-point lead the champions once enjoyed in the League will disappear completely if Blackburn beat Wimbledon tomorrow, and United are at Ewood Park on Saturday for a match which could see their rampant rivals displace them at the top.

The latest, and most demoralising in a series of debilitating results found the most gifted team in the country outwitted in one of the best League Cup finals in memory.

Atkinson's managerial reputation is founded on many qualities, but tactical imagination has never been regarded as his forte. Until now. Here, his game plan proved a masterstroke. Well aware that United's wingers were potential matchwinners on Wembley's broad acres, he stationed Tony Daley and Dalian Atkinson in front of his full backs to provide an additional line of defence.

Something very similar had worked well when his Sheffield Wednesday team beat United in the final of the same competition, and this time the ploy met with such success that Ryan Giggs suffered the rare indignity of substitution.

Belt-and-braces defence, perhaps, but the strategy was not entirely negative. Atkinson, who helped Earl Barrett to subdue Giggs, still found time to get forward, and scored the psychologically significant opening goal.

United began brightly enough, Cantona picking out Giggs, whose header flew tantalisingly wide of the far post, and Mark Hughes going close after the young winger had eluded his twin markers for once.

Villa were under intense pressure, but responded to the challenge with intelligence and impressive resolve. Unable to make their usual progress on the flanks, United tried their luck through the middle and foundered on a midfield rock by the name of Kevin Richardson and a pair of all-consuming centre-halves in the foursquare shape of Paul McGrath and Shaun Teale.

Keane, supplied by Hughes, should have found a greater degree of accuracy with a close-range header. Instead, a good chance went to waste, and the extravagance was soon punished when, with 25 minutes gone, Villa took the lead with their first attack of any consequence.

Andy Townsend's pass found its way to Atkinson via Saunders' flick, and the striker steered the ball past Les Sealey's desperate advance with the outside of his right foot.

Paul Parker, from 25 yards, and Gary Pallister, much closer in, threatened to restore parity, but Teale dispossessed Kanchelskis with the sort of heroic last-ditch tackle that inspires or deflates, according to your persuasion, and the impression that it was not to be United's day strengthened midway through the second half when the disconsolate Giggs gave way to Lee Sharpe.

With 14 minutes left it was 2-0, and Atkinson (the larger one) was wearing a smile bigger than that ample girth. Daley's darting pace panicked Parker into conceding a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area, Richardson drove it in low and Saunders's predatory instincts brought him his 14th goal of the season with a volley which was all placement rather than power.

All over? Not quite. Hughes headed over from six yards before giving United a glimmer of hope when he turned smartly on Keane's shot and directed the ball into the far corner. Eight minutes left and they had to go for it, of course. On came Brian McClair, for Steve Bruce, and all-out attack would have had its reward but for the stunning one-handed reach with which Mark Bosnich broke Hughes' heart and his team's resistance.

That was that as far as United were concerned. The issue had been settled by that remarkable save, and the last-minute penalty was significant only for the banishment, and consequent suspension, of Kanchelskis.

Keith Cooper, who had an excellent match, had no option but to flourish the red card when the Ukrainian handled Atkinson's follow-up shot after Daley had shivered an upright.

Kanchelskis trudged off, Saunders dispatched the penalty straight and true, and Ferguson was left with much to do to halt the downward spiral.

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Bosnich; Barrett, McGrath, Teale, Staunton (Cox 79); Atkinson, Fenton, Richardson, Townsend, Daley; Saunders. Substitutes not used: Spink (gk), Houghton.

Manchester Utd (4-4-2) Sealey; Parker, Bruce (McClair 83), Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs (Sharpe 68); Cantona, Hughes. Substitute not used: Walsh (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

Football, page 30

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried