Football: Saunders heads in to take care of the holders

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

Manchester United. . . . . . . . . .0

OH for a goalscorer. Villa have Dean Saunders and there he was again to decide last night's furiously contested Coca-Cola Cup third-round tie with his seventh strike in nine appearances for his new club since arriving on a pounds 2.3m transfer from Liverpool.

Manchester United, the holders of the trophy, have Mark Hughes, a scorer of spectacular goals but too often found wanting with what the pros call the bread and butter variety. On a plate came two chances for him in the final minute after Paul McGrath inexplicably headed agaihst his own post; the first he blasted straight at Nigel Spink, the second, from the rebound, he slashed wildly and wastefully wide.

So the Villa manager, Ron Atkinson, was able to celebrate another famous victory in this competition against the side who six years ago, almost to the day, decided that he was never going to win anything for them again and sacked him.

United's long run of success in the League Cup had stretched back two years with only one blot on a fertile landscape, the underdog Wembley triumph of Atkinson's Sheffield Wednesday in the 1991 final.

They fought as hard as they knew to defy him another satisfying result and preserve their unbeaten domestic record which dates back to 19 August. The chances were there for the taking but as so often this season - only 16 goals in 18 games is a damning statistic - they were not accepted.

The United manager, Alex Ferguson, said: 'They say your name is on the cup' - surely the engravers have got round to it by now - 'but it wasn't for us tonight. We seem to be unlucky on one or two occasions but we can't keep saying that every time when we haven't finished teams off.'

A game which to begin with was frenzied even by the hectic standards of the Premier League finally blossomed into a spectacle worthy of these twin powers. Saunders had the first word after the interval when, unmarked at the far post, he flashed a volley wide from Steve Staunton's right-wing cross.

The little striker was as busy and dangerous as ever but he threatened to be upstaged by his fellow Welshman. After Darren Ferguson and Andrei Kanchelskis combined, Hughes drove a bouncing ball at Spink whose positional sense was to serve him so well later on. Then Hughes, fed by Paul Ince, produced a shot quickly only to find Earl Barrett in the way.

United began to look the more likely but, fatally, they left Saunders inadequately marked when Kevin Richardson drilled in a deep 75th-minute corner. Saunders climbed higher than Clayton Blackmore and sent his header down in to the turf and high in to the net.

Aston Villa: Spink; Barrett, Staunton, Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton, Parker, Saunders, Atkinson, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Small, Farrell.

Manchester United: Schmeichel; Parker, Irwin (Kanchelskis, 22), Bruce, Ferguson, Pallister, Blackmore, Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs. Substitute not used: Webb.

Referee: P Don (Middlesex).

Fourth-round draw, page 37

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