Football: Aloisi puts Villa in a tailspin

FA Premiership: Gregory `embarrassed' as struggling Coventry hit four; Aston Villa 1 Coventry City 4 Dublin 55 Aloisi 25, 73 Boateng 51, 84 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 38,799
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IF ASTON VILLA'S Championship challenge had been teetering then yesterday it hit the floor with a shuddering crash. Struggling Coventry had won only once before away from home this season and never at Villa Park in 63 years of League matches. This victory, however, was wholly deserved.

The home side, suffering their fourth straight home defeat, looked a pale shadow of the team that led the table for three months last autumn and Coventry, responding splendidly to the example set by the enduring class of 34-year-old Gary McAllister, looked a good deal better than a team supposedly labouring under the threat of relegation.

This was a Villa side in urgent need of a win to kickstart their season. What they delivered, however, was a performance that their manager, John Gregory, described as an embarrassment. Coventry's margin might have been more emphatic still had the referee, Uriah Rennie, not inexplicably failed to award them a first-half penalty.

"It was the worst I have witnessed from a team I have been involved with as a manager or a player," Gregory said. "We were second best in every department and we are going to have to work very hard to get anything at all out of this season now because, quite frankly, we are in deep trouble."

Gregory could not identify the cause of Villa's malaise and did not touch on his problems with Stan Collymore. Perhaps of greater significance has been the injury and loss of form suffered by Dion Dublin, who scored eight times in six matches after Gregory paid pounds 5.75m for him, but whose penalty yesterday marked his first goal since mid-December.

Dublin has a groin injury he was hoping to nurse until the end of the season before going under the knife but Gregory said that the operation might have to be brought forward.

Coventry looked the more confident side, McAllister assuming command in midfield and directing his team's attacks with imagination and almost faultless execution. The Sky Blues were lacking Noel Whelan, who has a shoulder injury, but were not disadvantaged.

Indeed, his replacement, John Aloisi, arrived with an appetite sharpened by waiting long and patiently for an opportunity, of which his two well- taken goals were proof.

The Australian, signed for pounds 700,000 from Portsmouth in December, has had to watch Whelan and Darren Huckerby develop a partnership, but seized his chance and rewarded Coventry's impressive start with a goal after 25 minutes.

The build-up was smooth and slick, Aloisi involved himself in releasing Stephen Froggatt along the left. The former Villa winger responded with a low cross towards the near post which Aloisi read instantly, darting in front of Riccardo Scimeca and holding off the defender's challenge before hooking the ball wide of Michael Oakes.

Two minutes after Aloisi's opener came the incident that should have seen them awarded a penalty against Scimeca.

In their mitigation, Villa twice had to reorganise, losing Ian Taylor and later Watson to injury before half-time. Even so, the threat they posed to Coventry's goal was not that of genuine title contenders.

Five minutes into the second half came Coventry's second goal with the home defence found wanting, first by allowing Huckerby to cross from the right and then letting George Boateng squeeze the ball between Oakes and the near post.

Villa were handed a lifeline by another controversial penalty decision, Rennie upholding their claims after Julian Joachim had gone down under Richard Shaw's challenge. Dublin smashed his spot-kick into the top corner and, with Collymore dispatched from the bench, Villa sensed the possibility of ill-deserved reward.

It would have been unfair on Coventry had the match turned on a decision that was questionable. However, justice was served when Aloisi pounced to score his second, this time getting in front of Gareth Southgate in the six-yard box to convert Froggatt's free-kick.

After that, Boateng's second goal came as a bonus. Villa were pressing and Collymore had hit a post, but when McAllister's through ball sent his team-mate clear, Boateng deftly chipped it over Oakes's head.