Football: Gregory's Villa find new purpose

Coventry City 1 Aston Villa 2
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The Independent Online
IT'S strange, the effect a change of leadership can have on a team. Villa, a rudderless vessel during Brian Little's final days, have rediscovered their sense of direction under John Gregory. And that direction is up.

Villa have risen to eighth place and won six of their last seven Premiership matches since Gregory succeeded Little in late February. After wondering if the Inter-Toto Cup might offer a back door into Europe, they may yet enter the Uefa Cup via the main entrance.

One could forgive Little for feeling betrayed. Not by Gregory, his former coach, but by players who simply failed to give their best. And it is clear that the guilt is equally shared.

It is all down to motivation, a commodity Little was eventually unable to supply. Gregory, with recourse to the big stick at times, has persuaded Little's under-achievers there is purpose where they evidently felt none existed.

At Highfield Road, Villa exuded commitment from the first kick. Coventry, whom their manager says have slipped into a "comfort zone" following 13 matches unbeaten, were punished after five minutes of the first half and three minutes of the second. Each time they mounted a recovery but only once were they rewarded with a goal.

Dwight Yorke, responsible for both of Villa's, was excellent, and not only for his finishing. He drew praise from Gordon Strachan, who used the Trinidadian's example to illustrate a contrast on a day when Darren Huckerby, for one, was virtually anonymous.

"You can be a celebrity after half a season or even a couple of good games," Strachan said. "But Yorke has been maintaining those standards for five seasons. That is the measure of a truly great player."

Strachan dismissed his side's European ambitions with a wave of the hand. "Today has shown how easy it is to slip backwards. With all the talk of Europe, I think we have been living in a comfort zone."

Perhaps more to the point though, despite Noel Whelan's best efforts and fine goal, Coventry lacked a Dwight Yorke.

Goals: Yorke (5) 0-1; Yorke (48) 0-2; Whelan (59) 1-2.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Nilsson, Shaw, Breen, Burrows; Telfer, Soltvedt (Moldovan, 75), Boateng (Hall, 45), Whelan; Dublin, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Hedman (gk), Williams, Strachan.

Aston Villa (3-4-3): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton; Grayson, Taylor, Hendrie, Wright; Joachim, Yorke, Milosevic (Scimeca, 62). Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Draper, Nelson, Vassell.

Referee: D J Gallagher (Banbury).

Bookings: Coventry: Burrows. Villa: Taylor.

Man of the match: Yorke.

Attendance: 22,792.