Football: Saunders' strike settles local dispute

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

Birmingham City. . . . . . . . . . . .0

(Villa win 2-0 on aggregate)

A GOAL by Dean Saunders eight minutes from the end enabled Aston Villa to reach round three of the Coca-Cola Cup 2-0 on aggregate after a vigorous second city derby at Villa Park.

Birmingham rose above their First Division status but the goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, twice stopped them erasing Villa's first-leg lead before their cause was undermined by the 65th-minute sending- off of Paul Tait.

Bosnich had saved a penalty in the first leg, after Nigel Spink went off injured, before Kevin Richardson's late goal gave Villa an advantage. Last night, with Spink rested, the Australian's role was equally important.

In the eighth minute, after Lou Donowa had stolen possession from Gordon Cowans, Bosnich's agility denied Carl Shutt a goal from 25 yards. Then, moments before half- time, the speed of his advance off the line foiled Shutt again.

Shutt, on an extended loan from Leeds, formed a makeshift front line with Paul Mardon, normally a centre- back, after City's regular strike force of Andy Saville and Paul Peschisolido were withdrawn through injury.

This seemed to place the First Division side at a considerable disadvantage but Villa's defence endured an uncomfortable evening nonetheless. However, Shutt's frustration was compounded three minutes into the second half when, having pounced on another error by Cowans and accelerated past Shaun Teale, his shot beat the left-hand post as well as Bosnich.

The decisive moment was the dismissal of Tait. It had been a match of high passion but clean tackling, and the incident was out of character with what had gone before. But when Tait reacted to Richardson's late challenge by pushing him over the advertising boards into the crowd the referee could only respond in one way.

Birmingham were finished off in the 82nd minute when Richardson won a tackle in his own half and sent Saunders racing clear. The striker rounded the advancing Kevin Miller and slotted the ball into the empty net.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Bosnich; Cox, McGrath, Teale, Staunton; Richardson, Cowans, Townsend (Houghton, h-t), Daley; Saunders, Atkinson. Substitutes not used: Whittingham, Spink (gk).

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Miller; Hiley (Scott, 50), Whyte, Dryden, Frain; Hooper, Tait, Smith, Donowa (Fenwick, 72); Mardon, Shutt. Substitute not used: Steadman (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Villa's Andy Townsend, who was substituted at half-time after a recurrence of a hamstring injury, has been ruled out of the Republic of Ireland's World Cup match with Spain in Dublin next week. Paul McGrath is also doubtful with hamstring trouble.

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