Football: Atkinson hit by the Blues

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Aston Villa. 1

Chelsea. . .3

LIKE the man who re-roofs his house at great expense only to find a flood crashing through the front door, Ron Atkinson's plans to refurbish Aston Villa's attack by recruiting Dean Saunders may have to take second place on his list of immediate priorities behind the need to shore up the alarming gaps in their defence exposed by Chelsea at Villa Park.

The theory was that with the Welshman to apply the finishing touches to their midfield finesse, Villa would be a match for anyone. They were emphatically disabused of that notion by the pace and power of Chelsea's attacks, in which those unlikely Blues Brothers, Robert Fleck and Eddie Newton, proved too hot to handle.

Fleck, for whom Ian Porterfield paid Norwich pounds 2.1m, precisely the sum at which Atkinson values Saunders, demonstrated why Villa are so anxious to recruit a specialist striker. He cancelled out an early Villa goal by Kevin Richardson with his own first for Chelsea, and played a major part in the other two.

Newton, a 20-year-old winger from Hammersmith who has come through the Stamford Bridge ranks, scored four times in 18 matches on loan to Cardiff last season. However, his goal last night was his second in the two games he has started in the Premier League. Like QPR's Andrew Impey, who shares the same position, birthplace and turn of speed, we shall be hearing much more of him.

Yet it had all started so promisingly for Villa. Though unable to present Saunders to the faithful, they did not stand on ceremony and deserved the 31st-minute lead secured by their captain's instinctive half-volley from 20 yards, the ball going in off the underside of the bar.

Two goals in two minutes shortly before half-time changed everything: Fleck struck the first, a real predator's goal in the split second after Andy Townsend had bundled Dennis Wise's cross into a crowded six-yard box, and then played a quickfire one-two with Newton, who thrashed his angled drive past Nigel Spink.

Twelve minutes into the second half the roof caved in on Villa, and again Fleck and Newton did the damage. After they had linked on the right of the penalty area, the junior partner laid the ball off to Vinnie Jones. The tattooed trundler's miscued effort rebounded off a defender straight to Wise, who buried a low shot under the sprawling Spink from eight yards.

Aston Villa: Spink; Barrett, Staunton, Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton, Parker, Regis (McAvennie, 70), Atkinson, Froggatt. Substitutes not used: Ehiogu, Sealey (gk).

Chelsea: Beasant; Clarke (Lee, h-t), Hall, Jones, Elliott, Donaghy, Newton, Fleck, Harford, Townsend, Wise. Substitutes not used: Allon, Colgan (gk).

Referee: P Foakes (Clacton).