Football: Holden's helping hand

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa. . . . . . .1

Redmond og 58

Oldham Athletic. . . . .2

Beckford 67, Holden 74

Attendance: 21,214

OLDHAM, ravaged by injuries, made light of their handicaps with a splendid performance as Villa, the Coca-Cola Cup finalists, completed their Wembley preparations with a third consecutive defeat.

Villa's lacklustre display left their manager, Ron Atkinson, in black mood. 'If Manchester United were odds on to beat us at Wembley before this match, they are racing certainties now. It was a disgraceful performance, an insult to the fans. I feel ashamed as a manager.'

Oldham have been beaten only once in 10 matches in League and Cup and scarcely deserve to be still in the bottom three, the legacy of indifferent form earlier. But the last thing they want is sympathy, even as they face another battle against the drop.

'We're not complaining,' their manager, Joe Royle, said cheerfully. 'This is the most successful phase in our history. Three successive seasons in the Premiership.' Plus, of course, an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, a repeat of 1990, the season that launched Oldham on their upward journey. They reached the League Cup final in the same year and 12 months later were Second Division champions. 'All this stuff about perpetual struggle is a myth,' Royle added. 'It's only the last two seasons.' Indeed, in '91-92, despite finishing 17th, they were once as high as ninth.

Perhaps yesterday Oldham were playing from memory. They always looked likely to put another one over Villa, whose poor performance could not be explained merely by the absence of Dalian Atkinson, Andy Townsend and Tony Daley. Villa managed only one decent shot on target, delivered by Garry Parker from 25 yards, to which Jon Hallworth was equal.

In the event Oldham handed Villa the lead when the centre-back, Steve Redmond, under less pressure than he possibly imagined, sliced an attempted clearance into his own net. Had that moment decided the points, it would have been most unfair on Oldham's defence, in which Richard Graham, 19, excelled. Fortunately for them, their attacking colleagues responded to telling effect.

Rick Holden, dispossessing Earl Barrett, released Henry to provide the low cross which Darren Beckford met with an emphatic finish from six yards. Then, from 30 yards, Holden curled a free-kick around the Villa wall which, as Royle put it, 'you'll want to see over and over again'.