Football / FA Cup: Saunders helps Villa to head on past Rovers

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The Independent Online
Bristol Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Aston Villa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

FAT RON, as Malcolm Allison insists on calling him, had the last laugh at the mudbath that was Twerton Park last night, when Villa cruised past ragged Rovers to earn themselves the dubious privilege of a home tie against Wimbledon in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

The replay was as undemanding for the Premier League team as the scoreline would suggest, Rovers shooting themselves in the foot by allowing Dean Saunders two soft goals and having Billy Clark sent off for handling a shot from Earl Barrett.

Gavin Kelly saved the consequent penalty from Ray Houghton, just as he had done in the first game, at Saunders's expense, but a heroic performance from the young goalkeeper was to no avail.

'Goodnight Irene', the First Division side's archaic anthem, was never more appropriate. Goodnight, indeed, Big Mal.

A match devoid of real excitement, spoiled as a contest by Clark's 29th-minute dismissal, was poor reward for all the work that went into rendering the pitch playable. An overnight deluge had Rovers resorting to a corps of volunteers armed with forks, and an industrial drier. The managers did their best to supplement the hot air, an exhange of unpleasantries - 'Fat Ron, Old Mal' etc - spicing up the occasion.

The famous mouth was in overdrive right up to the kick-off. 'The bigger they come, the harder they fall,' he said, promising that 'Villa will be falling from a great height'.

Confidence? More like blind faith from a man whose team are now without a win in six games. Villa, in contrast, hit a new peak with Sunday's 5-1 demolition of Middlesbrough, and resumed in the same authoritative manner.

Dwight Yorke and Garry Parker had both threatened to translate their clear superiority into an early lead before Saunders finally did so, midway through the first half.

Rovers, a poor second even before they were depleted, had created no more than a couple of half-chances by the time Villa's opening goal arrived.

The marking was non-existent as Steve Staunton's corner from the right found its way, via Yorke, to the far post, where Saunders scored at nodding range.

From bad to worse. Rovers were still coming to terms with their deficit when they were disadvantaged on the pitch, as well as on the scoresheet.

Kelly saved, but could not hold, Kevin Richardson's 20-yarder, and Barrett's follow-up shot was kept out by Clark's flailing hand. 'A complete accident,' the defender said, but the referee ruled otherwise and, once Martin Bodenham had made up his mind that the offence was intentional, Clark had to go. Kelly, falling to his right, saved Houghton's daisy-cutting penalty, but in doing so he merely delayed the inevitable.

Eleven men had not been good enough; the Twerton Ten were never going to be. Houghton and Barrett should both have widened the margin before Saunders headed in another Staunton corner, a quarter of an hour from the end, for his 14th, and easiest, goal of the season. Villa's dominance was further rewarded seven minutes from time, when Houghton drove in the third.

Bristol Rovers: Kelly; Evans (Twentyman, 30), Clark, Yates, Hardyman, Jones, Browning, Stewart, Taylor, Saunders, Waddock. Substitute not used: Archer.

Aston Villa: Spink; Barrett, Staunton, Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton, Parker (Regis, 84), Saunders, Yorke (Froggatt, 84), Cox.

Referee: M Bodenham (East Looe).

(Photograph omitted)

FA Cup Countdown, page 34