Football: Guppy's Midas touch dispels gloom

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Leicester City 3

Izzet 40, Southgate og 48, Cottee 55

Aston Villa 1

Dublin 73

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 19,917

LEICESTER CITY were recently described in a survey as being the second least friendly club in the country. Aston Villa already knew that, as they have only ever won six times at Filbert Street. But in case Villa were hopeful that Leicester wanted to put on a new smiling face and were happy to get rolled over, they were very wrong.

The hosts so completely out-played their visitors that the three goals did not flatter them. To add insult to injury Villa's Gareth Southgate, who scored an own-goal, was sent off after two yellow cards. Any relief that Villa felt from Dion Dublin's 72nd-minute goal, his team's only shot on target all match, was brief and slight.

Steve Guppy almost emer-ged as Leicester's man of the first half, as it was the midfielder who nearly broke the deadlock after 22 minutes. After a quiet opening spell on the left flank by his busy standards, he was suddenly put through by Andy Impey on the right. Having beaten the offside trap, Guppy's shot from inside the penalty box was too close to Peter Enckelman in the Aston Villa goal, and the Finn kicked his effort away.

However, Guppy did have a say when Leicester took the lead after 41 minutes. Impey made a strong run to the byline and from his deep cross Guppy headed across goal for Muzzy Izzet to head in from six yards.

The lead did not flatter Leic-ester, as it was Martin O'Neill's men who took the game to their Midlands rivals, and it was after only 30 seconds that they had a claim for a penalty waved away by the referee Jeff Winter. It was not long before they were threatening Enckelman again, this time as Matt Elliott headed a Neil Lennon free-kick over the crossbar. Then, with 11 minutes gone, Robbie Savage found Emile Heskey, but the striker could only direct his header straight at the goalkeeper.

Both teams were involved in midweek Worthington Cup victories, but although Leicester had a harder time of it against Crystal Palace than Villa did against Chester, it was still O'Neill's side who looked more lively as they dominated the midfield, to the extent that Dublin, the Villa striker, was forced to drop back and help out. With Dublin out of position, his strike partner Julian Joachim, playing against his former club, had no one to help him out on the few occasions the ball came to him.

In a match which was lacking even a spark of inspiration and imagination from either side, the Leicester fans took to amusing themselves with sporadic shouts of "We want Pierpoint out" as the stand-off between the Group Chief Executive of Leicester City PLC and those in charge of the football club continues.

Not that Leicester needed any extra assistance as they were worthy leaders at half-time. But extra help they had in the form of Southgate, who scored his own-goal two minutes after the break. And again Guppy, who was having a Midas touch of an afternoon, was involved. He hit a hopeful ball into the area from 40 yards out which eluded Heskey, while Enckelman was drawn out of his goal by the presence of Tony Cottee at the far post. But the ball never reached that far, Southgate touching it into the empty net.

Worse was to come for Villa's manager, John Gregory, nine minutes later. Guppy, inevit-ably, sent in a corner that Savage headed to the far post, Heskey then headed across the goalline, leaving Cottee with the simplest of finishes. To complete the miserable afternoon for both Villa and Southgate, with 65 minutes gone the England defender was sent off after receiving a second yellow card as he hauled down Heskey 25 yards from goal.