Football: Clinical Collymore cuts loose

Stromsgodset 0 Aston Villa 3 Aston Villa win 6-2 on aggregate
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The Independent Online
STAN COLLYMORE, a peripheral figure in Aston Villa's ascent to the Premiership summit, made a stunning return to active service in a Norwegian downpour last night. Two early goals by the pounds 7m enigma ended Stromsgodset's Uefa Cup challenge almost before it began, and he completed his hat-trick shortly after the hour.

While the evening was clearly a personal success for Collymore - who was playing only because Paul Merson signed from Middlesbrough too late to be eligible - it also represented a triumph of teamwork and resilience. Villa had been 2-0 down with eight minutes of the first leg remaining before the 18-year-old Darius Vassell capped a remarkable fightback, but once Collymore had scored twice in the space of 14 minutes their place in Friday's second-round draw was never in doubt.

The last Villa player to collect a hat-trick in Continental competition was Gary Shaw in a European Cup tie against Dinamo Bucharest 15 autumns ago. Collymore has a long way to go before he can even hope to match the popularity of Shaw, whom he once idolised from the Holte End, yet this was a promising if somewhat belated start.

His opening salvo, a brutal drive with his right foot, was almost a carbon copy of the one he scored as a substitute when Villa bowed out of the same competition to Atletico Madrid at the quarter-final stage in March. That, coincidentally, was his last goal, since when he has tended to make headlines at the front end of the newspapers rather than on the sports pages.

For his second, which finally took him into double figures more than a year after he arrived from Liverpool, Collymore used his left foot. His powerful running with the ball and interplay with Julian Joachim merited a third goal, which duly came from close range as what had started as a struggle became a stroll for Villa.

Collymore's contribution gives John Gregory the sort of selection problem managers relish for Saturday's derby at Coventry. He was starting only his second match this season, and for the fourth time in Gregory's six- month reign.

The contrast with Villa's venture to Madrid could hardly have been more marked. The council-owned Marienlyst Stadium proved to be of Conference size, its capacity of 4,200 having been increased only by temporary seating.

In terms of history and resources, the disparity between Stromsgodset and Villa is similarly pronounced. The club from the port of Drammen have been professional for just two years, compared with the visitors' 110. They have fewer than 20 full-time staff, against the 104 in Doug Ellis's employ, and were playing only their 12th match in Europe whereas Villa have claimed the premier prize.

The clubs' recent fortunes have also been sharply divergent. For while Villa's rampant start has their followers dreaming of the championship, Stromsgodset are fighting against relegation. Their caretaker manager, Jens Martin Stoten, was working at his physiotherapy practice until two hours before kick-off; Gregory only ever has to massage egos.

Stoten had been able to recall his former Premiership players, Jostein Flo and Erland Johnsen, and both figured prominently in an eventful opening. The towering Flo, once of Sheffield United, operated as a lone target man, with Stromsgodset's midfielders presumably under orders to support him when possible. The ploy worked just once, in the seventh minute, when Flo flicked on and Christer George sent a looping header over the bar.

Villa responded so positively that the tie was effectively over with the first half barely past the midway point. In the 11th minute, Johnsen's control belied his spells with Chelsea and Bayern Munich and Collymore pounced on the loose ball. Cutting in from the left, he angled an 18-yard shot across Glenn Arne Hansen.

After a further, Flo-induced scare in which Stromsgodset had two efforts blocked and another saved by Mark Bosnich following a corner, Collymore struck again in the 24th minute. An intricate build-up on Villa's right flank culminated in a shot by Ian Taylor. When Hansen parried, the ball broke to Villa's No 9, who dispatched it clinically from 10 yards.

Collymore's final thrust owed everything to the selfless work of Joachim. The diminutive attacker beat a defender on the byline before delivering a low pass which invited a simple tap-in.

The only downside for Villa, on a night when they also kept their seventh clean sheet in nine games, were yellow cards for Taylor and Alan Thompson. Both were also cautioned at Villa Park and will therefore miss the club's next European fixture.

Stromsgodset (4-5-1): Hansen; Granas, Johnsen, Skistad, Waehler; George (H E Odegaard, 67), Nyan, Solberg (Strom, 85), E Hagen (L Olsen, 67), R Hagen; Flo.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Grayson; Charles (Scimeca, 51), Taylor (Ferraresi, 70), Draper, Thompson, Wright; Joachim, Collymore.

Referee: D Scoch (Switzerland).

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