Football: Dublin doubles up in singular debut

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2

Dublin 31, 35, Anderton pen 65, Vega 76

Collymore 48

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 39,241

IT REQUIRED precisely 34 minutes for any remaining doubters in the Holte End to become fully committed Dubliners. By then, Villa's pounds 5.75m acquisition had already forged a potent understanding with a reformed Stan Collymore, scored a brace of goals, and survived a second-minute brush with a sending-off offence. By any standards, it was one hell of a start for Dion Dublin.

Somewhere out there Villa fanatic Nigel Kennedy is probably already composing a violin concerto dedicated to Dion and "Colly". Not that there can have been too many misgivings from the Villa faithful at the purchase of Gregory's guy, completed on Thursday. It was merely the magnitude of the fee which appeared less a snip and more a slip of chairman Doug Ellis's pen - perish the thought. But if this is what Villa can expect from Dublin and Collymore, the latter adding a third just after the interval, then there are evidently bountiful times ahead. Especially when they are abetted by Paul Merson supporting them from deep.

That is, of course, assuming that a defence which this season has been so miserly it would have given Albert Steptoe a run for his money, doesn't continue to yield goals with the carefree abandon it did in the second half. Their complacency meant that, from being 3-0 down, Tottenham re- grouped with a three-man defence, placed the accent on adventure, and if the ball had fallen more kindly to young Rory Allen in the closing minutes, manager George Graham might just have been celebrating an unlikely draw.

Such a result, though, would have not only been unjust but would have ruined the plot completely for Dublin, whose interests were surely protected by the Gods from the 90th second. His elbow across the face of John Scales as both challenged for the ball left the defender requiring attention. The contact appeared accidental, but players have been ordered off for the offence, as Stuart Pearce of Newcastle will testify. Fortunately for Dublin a yellow card was deemed sufficient.

This was to prove a significant decision. After a back-header which flashed narrowly wide of Espen Baardsen's post, Dublin entered the Villa score- sheet for the first time when a 14th-minute corner from Alan Wright rebounded cruelly off Scales. The England striker simply doesn't miss from virtually under the bar.

It was right in front of the Holte End and as he duly celebrated, the opposing manager, seated in the directors' box, could only grimace and shake his head. What Graham made of the next goal can only be imagined. Darren Anderton and Scales both left the ball to each other outside the area, Dublin pounced and, before Tottenham's defenders could regroup, he had driven the ball under Baardsen. The huge smile, as he was mobbed by his team-mates, said it all, "Thank you very much, Tottenham".

The newcomer was eventually substituted eight minutes from time, but not before he had dispatched a header just wide and then a half chance, when the excellent Lee Hendrie's initial effort had re-bounded off Baardsen, very wide. Dublin also enjoyed the aftermath of what he presumed was his hat-trick, only to discover that the goal had been cancelled out for offside.

What a contrast from those early days at the two Uniteds, Cambridge and Manchester, the latter for whom he scored two League goals in two seasons, before his four-year attachment to Coventry. Here his progress as a top-quality striker has perhaps not always been aided by occasional deployment in defence.

Gregory has indicated that he might eventually be switched to central defence, but with a five and half year contract that day is surely far away with Dublin in this attacking mood. "Different class," enthused Steve Harrison, deputising for Gregory. "He knows his craft, been around for a while and there's a presence about him."

The Tottenham half-time team talk would have made interesting listening. The result of it was that the much-maligned Ramon Vega and Andy Sinton replaced Ruel Fox and Stephen Clemence. It served notice of a considerably less cautious approach. Collymore's 47th-minute goal, after Hendrie's splendidly precise pass had found him in space, seemingly took the score beyond Spurs' reach. They didn't think so, despite a forward line blunted by the absence of both Les Ferdinand and Chris Armstrong.

Ugo Ehiogu brought down David Ginola and Anderton scored without ceremony from the spot. When Anderton's corner was headed on by Steffen Iversen for Vega to stick out a leg and convert a second goal, it set up a compelling finale. But Graham's men failed to make a telling breakthrough.

"To be three down and to come back like that deserves a lot of credit," said Graham, preferring to look on the bright side. Yet he conceded his concern about the shortcomings at the back. "My defences at other clubs didn't just come overnight. They had to be worked at," he said.

Villa, after their elimination from Europe and then the Worthington Cup at Chelsea, hope such results were not the start of a habit and the beginning of a freefall to a more traditional position than League leaders. But Dublin, and the return of Merson and Steve Watson, saw to that. "Our progress has been good, but we need to maintain it," stressed Harrison. "Now we need to keep ahead of the chasing pack, because there are some excellent teams behind us."