Football: Joachim and Merson put the sparkle in Villa

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Aston Villa 3 Everton 0

CHELSEA ONLY lead the Premiership on goal difference this morning after Aston Villa illustrated that it is not always the glistening of gold that produces top-quality gems. Julian Joachim retains the lowest profile of John Gregory's expensively assembled forward line but it was the two breathtaking goals from the former Leicester striker which made this victory appear such a stroll.

Joachim, at pounds 1.5m a veritable snip in relation to the figures upwards of pounds 5.75m that it costs to buy a Dublin, Merson or Collymore these days, was chiefly responsible for making Everton rue the early dismissal of Alec Cleland for two yellow cards in the first 11 minutes.

Joachim, who even set up Paul Merson's comeback goal 12 minutes from time, has now scored more goals for Villa this season - 10 - than any of his more illustrious colleagues. Yet Everton had kept six clean sheets in their nine previous games and it took finishes of the highest calibre from Joachim to settle increasing unease within Villa Park as the home side initially struggled to break down Walter Smith's 10 men.

Everton have now lost on five of their last six Premiership travels and a repeat of last season's struggle against relegation appears likely. Their manager, understandably, pointed to the sending-off of Cleland as the crucial moment. "The ordering off was harsh," said Smith. "That influenced the rest of the game and we were always chasing it from then on. But I thought it was poor decision by the referee. He could have been stronger."

Traffic on the M6 delayed the kick-off by 15 minutes but Cleland soon showed just what real lateness looks like. With the game barely started, the Everton full-back was booked twice within 100 seconds for tardy tackles.

The team with the Premiership's worst disciplinary record, with 60 yellow cards, were soon numerically challenged as Cleland, outpaced by Joachim down the right flank, took expedient action just outside the penalty area. That measured, even premeditated, move was followed by an impetuous tackle on Dion Dublin's calves. Neale Barry's red card was not far behind the yellow.

Everton, switching to a 4-4-1 formation, reverted to trench mentality and impatience was creeping in before Joachim, controlling Ian Taylor's header down after Lee Hendrie's free-kick, dispatched a marvellous volley in off the underside of the crossbar six minutes before the break.

The relief around Villa Park was almost palpable. Yet the home side then relaxed, as three minutes later Ibrahima Bakayoko chased down a long ball and seemed to have held Gareth Southgate off sufficiently to get in a shot. The Villa captain recovered well, though, even if Bakayoko's shinned effort required an extended Michael Oakes to tip the ball over.

Stan Collymore, replacing Dublin, was given a 45-minute runaround but again it was Joachim who made the difference. A flowing move culminated in Hendrie volleying an instant pass through for Joachim to outpace Dave Watson and drive in a rising shot.

"When you've got someone with Julian's pace in your side, you've always got a chance," said a relaxed Gregory afterwards. "It almost seemed like a testimonial match after that."

Merson, having made up with his manager after their recent tiff, was on hand to volley in Steve Watson's header 12 minutes from time after Joachim - who else - had crossed from the right wing. It was enough to make everyone go home happy. Even Everton had avoided a goalless draw.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Oakes; S Watson, Ehiogu, Southgate; Barry, Wright, Scimeca, Taylor (Merson, 59), Hendrie (Draper, 82); Joachim, Dublin (Collymore, h-t). Substitutes not used: Grayson, Rachel (gk).

Everton (5-4-1): Myrhe; Cleland, D Watson, Materazzi, Ball, Oster (Branch, 83); Grant (Ward, 68), Dacourt, Hutchison, Barmby; Bakayoko (Cadamarteri, 83). Substitutes not used: Milligan, Simonsen (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).