Football: Barrett supplies the spectacle for Villa

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Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Everton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

RON ATKINSON has always professed an enjoyment for life at the top and his Aston Villa side seem to be taking after him. They began this game on top of the Premier League and they ended it in the same position, beating an unconvincing Everton side who have now lost their last four games.

The match had a special 'trainspotters' interest as the first occasion on which two Australian goalkeepers have faced each other in a top-flight match in Britain.

Mark Bosnich has recently been keeping Nigel Spink out of the Villa No 1 shirt with some impressive performances, while Everton were obliged to give his young compatriot Jason Kearton a full League debut in the absence of the suspended Neville Southall. It was not the happiest of debuts, but nor was it a happy display by Everton.

Villa, brimming with the confidence born of their League position, flowed forward with impressive fluency. Kearton had already been obliged to save bravely at Dean Saunders's feet before he was well beaten in the 11th minute. Earl Barrett, receiving the ball on the edge of the Everton area slipped it inside Kenny Sansom for Neil Cox to gather and fire in off the post.

Six minutes later Sansom nodded again, directing Shaun Teale's long clearance into the path of Barrett. The Villa player - who in Garry Parker's absence had been pushed into midfield - beat the ill-placed Kearton from outside the area.

It was a spectacular strike which Barrett's manager described generously as 'the biggest freak of all time'. Freak or not, there was little doubt that, at that stage, the match looked like turning into the slaughter of the innocents.

Villa were rampant, pouring through the middle and down the flanks. Their fans sat back on the plushness of the two-goal cushion and awaited the massacre. Instead they were given a rude jolt. In the 24th minute Sansom combined with Tony Cottee in a rare Everton attack. Bosnich parried the ball but Sansom, in chasing after it, fell over Ray Houghton's challenge. The referee pointed immediately to the spot and Beardsley - despite Houghton's prolonged protestations - gratefully smacked home the penalty.

Initially, the setback did not appear to have unsettled the home side. They spent the rest of the half bearing down on Kearton in search of the goals that their undoubted superiority warranted.

Sansom had to hook Dwight Yorke's shot acrobatically off the goal-line; another Yorke effort was disallowed for offside; Saunders struck the base of the post and Cox had a very plausible penalty appeal turned down.

It was a wonder that Everton reached half-time within sight of their hosts. It was only five minutes after the interval, when Howard Kendall sent on Stuart Barlow, that the Merseysiders looked capable of snatching something from the contest. Their original attacking combination of Cottee and Maurice Johnston, starting his first game this year, had failed to convince; indeed they failed almost entirely to get hold of the ball. The introduction of Barlow - no giant, but taller than either Cottee or Johnston - gave Everton's beleaguered defence a target to hit on the break.

The switch almost immediately began to suggest possibilities, and although Villa continued to press forward in numbers their confidence was slowly undermined.

As the half progressed Everton twice threatened to steal an improbable equaliser. Barlow scraped the bar with an ingenious chip that had Bosnich well beaten, and then Cottee only just failed to connect with Ian Snodin's right- wing cross.

Villa created their own late chances but increasingly they snatched at the ball - Saunders and Staunton both blasted long- range shots well wide when they might have brought the ball in closer with more profit - as they strove to put the game beyond their resurgent visitors. Their anxiety seemed largely unnecessary, but as tension mounts at the top of the table Villa are going to have to learn the virtues of patience.

Aston Villa: M Bosnich; E Barrett, S Staunton, S Teale, P McGrath, K Richardson, R Houghton, N Cox, D Saunders, D Yorke, S Beinlich. Subs not used: C Regis, B Small, N Spink (gk). Manager: R Atkinson.

Everton: J Kearton; M Jackson, K Sansom, I Snodin, D Watson, G Ablett, R Warzycha (S Barlow, 50 mins), P Beardsley, T Cottee, M Johnson, (P Radosavljevic, 74 mins), B Horne. Sub not used: S Reeves (gk). Manager: H Kendall.

Referee: A Ward (London).

Goals: Cox (1-0, 11 min); Barrett (2-0, 17 min); Beardsley (pen 2-1, 24 min).

----------------------------------------------------------------- PREMIER LEAGUE TOP FIVE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Aston Villa . . . . . . . . . . .30 16 8 6 47 31 56 Man Utd . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 15 9 5 44 23 54 Norwich . . . . . . . . . . . . .28 15 6 7 42 42 51 QPR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28 12 8 8 39 32 44 Ipswich . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 10 14 5 37 32 44 -----------------------------------------------------------------