Football: Staunton settles it

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Aston Villa. . . . . . .1

Tottenham Hotspur. . . .0

RESULTS of past encounters rarely carry more than curiosity value but students of statistics might have seen this match coming. On all the evidence available from early-season form, here was a contest brimming with possibilities. How we were misled: a record of three goalless draws among the last four Villa-Spurs League games proved a far more accurate guide.

Only a penalty 19 minutes from the end prevented an extension of the sequence, granting Villa three points that their performance only just merited and confirming that Tottenham's progress is still a matter of one step backward for every couple advanced. One sensed that their splendid victory at Liverpool in midweek had taken a lot out of them.

The build up to the decisive moment contained as much quality as anything that Villa produced during a subdued 90 minutes. Garry Parker's through pass, chipped into the area with the outside of the boot, was a lovely, delicate touch, typical of the player, and the recipient, Kevin Richardson, would surely have scored had Dean Austin's lunge not brought him down.

Justice was served when Steve Staunton drove low to Erik Thorstvedt's left from the spot for his third goal of the season.

But it is power as much as finesse that Villa require in midfield and it is bad luck on them that Andy Townsend, the player they bought to provide just that, failed a fitness test yesterday.

Graham Taylor, seeking to fill in the names on the England team sheet for Wednesday week, cannot have learnt too much from his seat in the main stand. Teddy Sheringham, one possibility for the target striker's role, did not have a chance to speak of. Tottenham's midfield diamond sparkled infrequently although the consistently underrated Vinnie Samways again caught the eye in the pivotal role.

The goal at least sparked a comparatively lively finish, in which Thorstvedt twice made fine one- handed saves to keep Villa's advantage to a single goal, pushing a glancing header from Dean Saunders around his left-hand post and doing likewise when the substitute Guy Whittingham tried his luck from long range.

Aston Villa (4-3-3): N Spink; E Barrett, S Teale, P McGrath, S Staunton; R Houghton, K Richardson, G Parker; D Atkinson, D Saunders, T Daley (G Whittingham, 81 min). Subs not used: M Bosnich (gk), N Cox. Manager: R Atkinson.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): E Thorstvedt; D Austin, C Calderwood, G Mabbutt, S Campbell; V Samways, D Howells (D Caskey, 59 min; D Anderton, 69 min) S Sedgley, J Dozzell; G Durie, T Sheringham. Sub not used: I Walker (gk). Manager: O Ardiles.

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

Goal: Staunton (1-0, pen, 71 min).