Football: Stein to the rescue

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The Independent Online
Chelsea. . . . .1

Stein 67

Aston Villa. . .1

Saunders 39

Attendance: 18,341

MARK STEIN salvaged a point against Aston Villa with his eighth goal in as many games in a match marred by a few spectators who ruined a one-minute silence for Sir Matt Busby by hurling abuse at Andy Townsend.

The Villa midfielder, who left Chelsea for Villa in July, was not alone in attracting derision. There were jeers for Dean Saunders every time he touched the ball, the Welshman having been involved in a challenge when at Liverpool which led to the Chelsea defender, Paul Elliott, suffering a long-term injury.

Villa extended their unbeaten run in London this season to seven matches and Saunders' response to the taunts was to shoot his ninth goal of the season from Tony Daley's 39th-minute cross, although Chelsea claimed that Daley had pushed Craig Burley to gain possession.

In a first half dominated by Villa, a Townsend shot flicked off the top of the Chelsea crossbar, while Ray Houghton missed from close range.

Chelsea pushed back Villa in the second half and went close when Nigel Spackman rolled a free-kick aside for Burley to drive in, and his deflected shot was taken at full-stretch by the Villa keeper, Mark Bosnich.

It was left to Stein, who went seven games without a goal after his pounds 1.5m move from Stoke in October, to pull Chelsea level. He found the target from a 67th-minute David Hopkin pass to become the first player to score in six successive Premiership games. The equaliser dispersed some of the tension that had been building up even before the kick-off.

Stein, though, wasted a simple chance after 10 minutes when he failed to connect with a Burley cross. Chelsea might even have snatched victory when Stein opened up the Villa defence with a 74th-minute pass to Hopkin, whose fierce shot was blocked by Bosnich.

The Chelsea manager, Glenn Hoddle, applauded Stein. 'It is a sign of a good marksman to score when the team are not functioning well. He has such quick feet and there was only one thing on his mind when the chance came.

'I wasn't pleased with our first-half performance, but we changed the pattern after the break and gained a little more space. But overall we didn't function as well as we have over the last few games.'

Ron Atkinson, the Villa manager, said: 'We had enough chances to win comfortably, but took our foot off the pedal. We threw two points away. Everyone is taking it for granted United have won the League, but three points today would have put us into the chasing pack. At least we are still on the same page of Teletext.'

(Photograph omitted)