ASTON VILLA proved there is life after Dwight Yorke yesterday as Julian Joachim, Gary Charles and Alan Thompson combined to demonstrate that John Gregory's side remain richly endowed with goalscorers. Bryan Robson's side, however, were anonymous for the first hour prior to a double substitution which came close to changing the complexion of this Premiership match.
In the opening 60 minutes, Villa dominated and but for a missed penalty by Thompson, they could have secured three points by that stage, sparing them a few anxious moments which followed.
Villa had taken a sixth-minute lead as they began putting behind them the Yorke years, following the pounds 12.6m departure of the Trinidadian striker to Manchester United late on Thursday. Coincidentally, the match sponsors were Yorkie, having clinched a deal for the game six months ago.
The obvious and ideal replacement would have been a fit Stan Collymore, but an ankle injury in training on Friday ruled him out having only just recovered from a thigh strain.
It forced Gregory to pair Riccardo Scimeca up front with Joachim and the 5ft 6in forward kick-started Villa's win with a stunning finish. Alan Wright's forward ball from the left was taken delightfully first time by Lee Hendrie, flicking superbly over the head of Dean Gordon.
For Gordon it was the start of an afternoon he will want to forget in a hurry as the pass found Joachim who drove a rivetting left-footer from 10 yards beyond Mark Schwarzer and inside the left-hand post.
Within two minutes Villa had chances to increase their lead as Hendrie struck a 25-yard effort wide of the right-hand post, while Gareth Southgate's close-range shot cannoned off Alan Moore into the side-netting.
Despite Villa's link-up play and movement between defence and midfield which left the visitors exasperated at times, the final through ball was lacking.
With chances at a premium it took a surprising run from Ugo Ehiogu - back in defence after a one-match ban - in the 29th minute to bring the game back to life, culminating in a 15-yard drive which Schwarzer saved low to his right.
Then came Thompson's fluffed spot-kick, after Joachim had been hauled down by Gianluca Festa. The kick was weak and at a comfortable height for Schwarzer to push away.
Yet Villa eventually doubled their lead in the 52nd minute with a beautifully crafted goal, culminating in a sublime finish from Charles. Hendrie was again involved in the build-up, this time with a raking pass which was flicked on into the path of Charles by Ian Taylor.
Gordon was again made to look foolish as Charles cut inside on to his left foot and curled a 15-yard shot round Schwarzer's right hand and inside the post.
In an effort to rouse his side, Robson brought on Mikkel Beck and Hamilton Ricard for Moore and the ineffectual Paul Gascoigne with the switch reaping immediate dividends in the 62nd minute. A through ball was flicked wide by the outside of Ricard's right boot for Merson to whip in a cross, allowing Beck to flick home at the near post.
Victory, however, was sealed in the 78th minute when poor Gordon bundled over Joachim just outside the area, allowing Thompson to make amends for his earlier blunder with a 20-yard free-kick which beat Schwarzer via a deflection off the wall.
Afterwards Joachim said: "Our performance was good and we got off to a great start. The first win was important. Let's hope we can continue."
Joachim believes he could now get a great opportunity to impress and said: "I have the chance to show what I can hopefully I can take the strikers' spot."
Thompson said of the penalty miss: "I should have walked up and blasted it, but I made up for it later on. I think the manager [Gregory] has massive ambitions. We have a young squad with some great kids coming through so the future looks good."
John Gregory was delighted with the 3-1 defeat after a week which had seen the departures of Yorke to United and David Unsworth to Everton. He said: "We were hoping we would be able to put in a good display and get a win - that was the most important thing."
Aston Villa: Bosnich; Charles, Wright, Southgate, Ehiogu, Taylor, Thompson, Joachim (Vassell 81), Barry, Hendrie (Draper 83), Scimeca (Grayson 69). Substitutes not used: Ferraresi, Oakes.
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer; Fleming, Gordon, Festa, Mustoe, Gascoigne (Beck 59), Merson, Moore (Ricard 59), Stamp, Townsend, Harrison. Substitutes not used: Maddison, Kinder, Beresford.
Booked: Villa: Wright. Middlesbrough: Festa.
Referee: P Alcock (Halstead).
Man of the match: Joachim.
Attendance: 29,559.Reuse content