Football / FA Cup: Villa's finish lacking polish

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Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Wimbledon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

ALREADY Aston Villa are taking the hard route to Wembley, but, in spite of their unimpressive showing at Villa Park yesterday, who would bet against their final arrival?

This was a tie that Wimbledon seemed capable of strangling at birth, but, after an early setback, they contributed enough to think that it was not their original intention to play for the replay. In the end, though, that was what they achieved, more by Villa's ineffective finishing than their own staunch defending which was highlighted by the confident goalkeeping of Hans Segers.

Yet this was a strange performance by Wimbledon for whom every match is usually treated as a cup-tie. Here, however, they succumbed to the attraction of home comforts to come and perhaps they were right.

With their main ambition still securely fastened on the Premier League title, Villa would happily have wished that a less mulish team than Wimbledon had come to try to kick them out of the Cup. Their 3-0 third-round replay win over Bristol Rovers had sapped energy and Wimbledon had to hope it left a drained team.

Not that Wimbledon had much cause to feel subservient after beating Everton in the Cup and Liverpool in the League. And now Vinnie Jones was back and ready to maul a few more reputations. All in all, a tie full of danger for Villa, who obviously decided that this was no time to begin with their usual counter-attacking game and thrust forward so positively that within four minutes they had missed an open goal and scored a difficult one.

Both incidents involved Ray Houghton and Dwight Yorke. After only 12 seconds, Houghton served Yorke with an inviting through-ball that Yorke ought to have turned into a chip over the advancing Hans Segers but drove wide, then Houghton turned Steve Staunton's short corner across the penalty area and Yorke made amends by heading in from what looked like an offside position close in.

Some slovenly defending offered Villa several more opportunities and when Steve Cotterill had to be carried off in the middle of the first half after a collision with Nigel Spink, Wimbledon's Cup future looked even more bleak. That would be to underestimate their resolve, and sure enough, after being first to the ball for half an hour, a short free-kick by Neil Ardley allowed Gary Elkins to see through the Villa wall and clout the far post as Spink dived along the line. The ball rebounded, hit Spink and crossed the line.

Villa took the warning. They imposed prolonged early second- half pressure on the Wimbledon defence. Dean Saunders was a distracting presence and Yorke's persistence was another thorn, but, overall, the game lost its point and became an untidy mess in which Villa were marginally the more innovative.

Clearly Wimbledon were disposed to believe that the status quo was worth defending and looked only at the possibilities of breakaways if and when the Villa attacks broke down. It made for undistinguished football, even by Cup-tie standards.

Even when Wimbledon did encroach on the Villa penalty area, their ideas left them short of chances. Dean Holdsworth might have done something about it when left alone on the left side but, ironically, when all that was required was a Wimbledon blast across a crowded goalmouth, with the chance of a fortunate deflection, he tried to be subtle and floated an anonymous cross.

Of course, Jones had to ensure that none of us forgot that no Cup tie is complete without some sign of aggression when he lunged at Garry Parker and had his name taken, but, in reality, no contact was intended. So if even our Vinnie had given up trying, there was not much hope of anyone else drawing blood.

Aston Villa: N Spink; E Barrett, S Staunton, S Teale, P McGrath, K Richardson, R Houghton, G Parker, D Saunders, D Yorke, S Froggatt. Substitutes: N Cox, S Beinlich. Manager: R Atkinson.

Wimbledon: H Segers; R Joseph, G Elkins, V Jones, J Scales, D Blackwell, N Ardley, R Earle, J Fashanu, L Sanchez, S Cotterill (D Holdsworth, 24min). Sub not used: A Clarke. Manager: J Kinnear.

Referee: K Redfern (Whitley Bay).

Goals: Yorke (1-0, 3min), Elkins (34, 1-1).