Football: Curcic invigorates Villa

Bordeaux 0 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online
After having looked in danger of being overrun by a lively and vibrant Bordeaux in the first half, Sasa Curcic gave arguably his best and certainly his most important display in an Aston Villa shirt. As a consequence, Brian Little's side can look forward to the second leg of this Uefa Cup first-round tie at Villa Park with some confidence.

Curcic was introduced after 53 minutes for Simon Grayson, and operating at times as a striking partner for Stan Collymore and sometimes running from deep, as he used to do with such great effect for Bolton, he added fluency, urgency and occasional penetration to a hitherto disjointed Villa side.

"I enjoyed certain bits of play, especially when Sasa came on," the Villa manager, Brian Little, said. "He looked bright and lively, and he gives us something different."

The only disappointment for Villa after a good night's work was that they only created one clear chance for the away goal that would have given them a huge advantage for the second leg. It was not that they played negatively, but Bordeaux, led by the 33-year-old former European Footballer of the Year Jean-Pierre Papin, showed themselves more than capable of posing problems for Gareth Southgate and the Villa defence.

Villa could have been a goal down after only three minutes when an attempted clearance by Steve Staunton struck Papin and rebounded straight into the path of his attacking partner, Lilian Laslandes. The former Auxerre player dragged his shot wide with only Mark Bosnich to beat.

Staunton made amends two minutes later with a 60-yard pass from central defence to the unmarked Alan Wright, foraging down the left. His low cross looked handy for Dwight Yorke, racing into the penalty area, but Paulo Gralak's desperate lunge diverted the ball to safety.

Papin fired over with a trademark volley on the turn and Bordeaux, through the midfield dominance of their import from Ajax, Kiki Musampa, and the pace and trickery of Sylvain Wiltord, took a firm grip on the match.

After only 15 minutes alarm bells were ringing again for Villa when Wiltord cut inside Wright and shot across the face of Bosnich's goal. The ball evaded everyone, including the lunging Laslandes, but fortunately for Villa it rebounded off the foot of the post into the goalkeeper's arms.

Villa came more into the game as half-time drew near, stringing one or two passes together, but Bordeaux came back strongly at the start of the second half, Wiltord drawing a fine save from Bosnich.

Villa then introduced Curcic and three minutes later they had their best chance of the night when a far-post cross by Staunton found Collymore who had pulled away from his marker. But as on other occasions during the match, the pounds 7m man's first touch let him down, giving Ulrich Rame the chance to block the close-range effort.

Bosnich was forced to parry a fierce shot by Papin, but in the closing stages Villa, with Curcic at the heart of most of their moves, grew stronger and stronger.

Bordeaux (3-5-2): Rame; Saveljic, Gralak, Afanou; Wiltord, Luccin (Diawara, 80), Pavon, Musampa, Grenet (Ferrier, 7); Laslandes, Papin (Diabate, 80). Substitutes not used: Jemmali, Ricardinho, Gomis, Menzo (gk).

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Nelson, Ehiogu, Staunton, Southgate, Wright; Taylor, Draper, Grayson (Curcic, 53); Yorke, Collymore. Substitutes not used: Charles, Scimeca, Joachim, Murray, Hughes, Oakes (gk).

Referee: A Ancion (Belgium).