Football: Quick Whittingham

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

Sheffield United. . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

THE green tide of Republic of Ireland adrenalin with which Aston Villa hoped to ride back into Premiership action broke on the shores of Sheffield United's packed defence with a disappointing damp slap.

With three of Jack Charlton's successful side in their line-up Villa were hoping to sweep United aside. But Dave Bassett's team used the sweeper, clogged the midfield and until Guy Whittingham scored Villa's winner with 14 minutes to go they did not have an effort on target.

That said, Ron Atkinson's side moved clear in second place with their fourth successive win. The Blades now have to go back three months for their last victory - a barren run of 11 matches.

Bassett, chirpy as ever, was still able to joke: 'I didn't need that with the England job up for grabs.'

His opposite number remains one of the punters' favourites to take over, but Atkinson says he loves the day- to-day involvement too much. Certainly he would miss the banter: 'I could sense a goal coming any week,' he said ruefully. 'At half-time we made a technical change and told them the game had started.'

The first effort on target did not arrive until the 43rd minute when one of United's three centre-halves, David Tuttle, had a low drive saved at the near post by Mark Bosnich, who had recovered from the injury that kept him out of Australia's losing side on Wednesday.

Three minutes after the interval he was caught in no man's land by Dane Whitehouse's pass down the left flank but Carl Bradshaw could not get sufficient elevation on his attempted lob.

After that Villa grew stronger and stronger, and the introduction of Garry Parker for only his sixth appearance of the season made the crucial difference. Dean Saunders had already lashed an inviting chance over the bar when Parker's intelligent pass produced the corner from which Villa scored. Using a well- rehearsed move, Dalian Atkinson turned a short corner towards the goal-line and his cross was volleyed home from four yards by Whittingham, unmarked at the back post.

It was Whittingham's third goal for Villa, all of them contributing to victories. Although Villa are struggling to discover some quality, they have still managed to accumulate enough points to keep them in distant pursuit of the champions.