Football: Little looks to cup games to salvage Villa's season

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The Independent Online
Jon Culley

Aston Villa 2

Sheffield Wednesday 2

It is little wonder that Brian Little is approaching tomorrow's Uefa Cup second leg against Bordeaux with trepidation, despite returning from France with a goalless draw two weeks ago. Not for the first time this season, Villa were undermined by poor defending against struggling Wednesday, who should have pulled off their first away win.

After five defeats in the Premiership, Little fears that the title is already beyond Villa. "Realistically, the cup competitions are becoming more important," he said, even before Saturday's disappointment.

But if they are not to slip out of one of those competitions against a side lying third in the French First Division they will need to present a more formidable barrier than the one Wednesday faced.

"The disappointing thing is that Wednesday will have enjoyed playing against us," Little said. "We were dropping off all the time as if tackling was not allowed."

Having abandoned his experiment with 4-3-3, Little is employing the same three centre-backs who served him well last season, yet they seem less secure, less well organised. David Pleat, always a shrewd tactician, had Guy Whittingham ranging forward from midfield to add height to Wednesday's attacks and Villa somehow managed to leave it to Alan Wright to compete with him in the air.

Given that the former stands six inches taller than the latter, there are no prizes for guessing who came out best. Whittingham's header, from Jim Magilton's cross, set up Wednesday's opening goal for Wayne Collins. He nodded in the second himself from Paolo Di Canio's centre.

Di Canio and Wednesday's other Italian, Benito Carbone, combined their clever skills brilliantly at times. "I'm the kind of manager for whom the result of a match can sometimes pass me by when I see the kind of beautiful play such as they produced," Pleat said.

He dismissed a report that Carbone is unhappy in Sheffield and keen to return to Italy. "Benito is as happy as Larry here. He's no Ravanelli."

Carbone was as committed as he was clever, outshone only by Di Canio, from whose cross Collins should heave headed a second-half winner.

Little's consolation was that Villa twice came from behind to claim their point. But it was a hollow consolation. Wednesday, after all, have let in 22 goals in nine matches and it was inevitable they would also make mistakes. Although Steve Staunton's first Villa equaliser was a screamer they could do little about, the second stemmed from bad marking.

Stan Collymore is doing little to help up front - the pounds 7m man squandering one glorious chance in the first half. Ian Wright has told him he should watch himself scoring on video to restore his confidence. Unfortunately, in 10 games in a Villa shirt he has managed only one.

Goals: Collins (26) 0-1; Staunton (32) 1-1; Whittingham (42) 1-2; Taylor (49) 2-2.

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Nelson (Charles, 78), Ehiogu, Staunton, Southgate, Wright; Taylor, Curcic (Milosevic, 58), Draper; Collymore, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Joachim, M Oakes (gk), Grayson.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Clarke; Nolan, Stefanovic, Walker, Briscoe; Whittingham, Magilton, Collins, Pembridge (Poric, 72); Carbone, Di Canio. Substitutes nots used: Nicol, S Oakes, Clough, Grobbelaar (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Booking: Villa: Taylor.

Man of the match: Di Canio.

Attendance: 32,044.