Football: Everton profit from Villa's high spirits: Anticlimax for Coca-Cola Cup winners

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa. . . . .0

Everton. . . . . . .0

They were singing in the rain at Villa Park last night, some 36,044 turning out to see Aston Villa parade the Coca-Cola Cup, but the contest itself proved a soggy squib from which only Everton can have drawn slender satisfaction.

Sunday's triumph left Villa in the peculiar position of having qualified for Europe with a fifth of the season remaining, but no other tangible reward to play for. This presented Ron Atkinson - now immortalised as 'Old King Coke' - with a motivational problem to which he responded with five changes.

Townsend, McGrath, Fenton, Daley and Dalian Atkinson were all missing, either injured or rested, and a strong opening by Everton soon exploited flaws in Villa's line-up. Anders Limpar, with an exquisitely weighted chip from 40 yards, had Mark Bosnich back-pedalling furiously in the 15th minute, only for the ball to drift tantalisingly wide.

Three successive defeats and an angry reproach from Mike Walker seemed to have awoken Everton to the reality of their status as relegation candidates. However, urgency was seldom accompanied by quality or sufficient support for Brett Angell.

At least, one wag commented, Villa were having more of the game than they did at Wembley. But they again lived dangerously when Limpar's cross found Matthew Jackson unmarked, Bosnich blocking bravely with his legs. Not until the 40th minute was Neville Southall tested, sprawling to push behind a long- range effort by Kevin Richardson.

No sooner had Ron Atkinson left his seat to glower from the touchline than Villa almost snatched a 46th-minute lead, as Ray Houghton's shot curled just wide of the far post. Immediately, a Limpar drive brought Bosnich to his knees.

By the hour, the crowd's festive mood had given way to restiveness. Steve Staunton sought to emulate Limpar by lobbing Southall, the ball this time sailing harmlessly over the crossbar.

Walker will have drawn encouragement from the frisson of flair which Limpar has brought from Arsenal, and from an astute performance by Ian Snodin as sweeper.

Meanwhile, the hosts looked as if they had been living out Ron Atkinson's quip about the 'Vodka and Coca-Cola Cup final'. Everton's companions in distress - notably Manchester City, who receive Villa on Saturday - must hope to catch them similarly disposed.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Bosnich; Barrett, Ehiogu, Teale, Staunton; Houghton, Parker, Richardson, Froggatt; Saunders, Yorke (Fenton, 74). Substitutes not used: Cox, Spink (gk).

Everton (1-4-4-1): Southall; Snodin; Jackson, Unsworth, Watson, Hinchliffe; Stuart, Horne, Ebbrell, Limpar; Angell. Substitutes not used: Cottee, Rowett, Kearton (gk).

Referee: R Gifford (Mid Glamorgan).

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