Queen's Park Rangers . . . . . . . .1
ONE SATURDAY gone and already a candidate for the most misleading score of the season. With the match in injury time Rangers almost made it 2-2; two minutes later and they were looking down both barrels of a thorough thrashing.
It was unjust, but no one could doubt the quality of the goals they conceded. Les Ferdinand hit a magnificent shot for the visitors and still he suffered a total eclipse with the strikes by Dalian Atkinson and Steve Staunton with the clock straining towards the finish.
Both were propelled from 25 yards with such velocity that Tony Roberts had barely time to take off, never mind reach for the ball. Villa took off with the goal of the month regularly last season and here were two more candidates for August 1992.
Last year Villa had to wait until their fifth league game before they got their first win, so any goal, no matter how scrappy, would have done as long as it achieved three points. It was the positive start manager Ron Atkinson was after, and nobody accentuated it more than Andy Townsend.
After a quiet start, Villa's pounds 2.1m signing from Chelsea in the summer became the dominant force in midfield, providing a delightful pass for Atkinson's first goal, in the 39th minute, and then going through his repertoire of tackles and runs. The implication was that his surges are going to be a feature this year as Paul McGrath's defensive excellence was last.
In theory, Villa, strengthened by the signings of Townsend and Guy Whittingham, ought to be a better team this season, but much depends on the mental state of those who finished runners-up.
The troubles that seem to follow Paul McGrath around did not augur well, but yesterday's match should have healed several wounds. Villa began as they finished last season, creating chances and missing them with equal facility, but by the end they were finding the net almost at will.
Ferdinand's strike with a minute to go to half-time - a fearsome drive with next to no backlift after the ball had rebounded to him from Ian Holloway - had suggested Villa might suffer a reverse that the Rangers manager Gerry Francis clearly believed was within his side's grasp. 'We could have been two or three down at half-time,' he said, 'but we were the better team in the second half. I thought we were going to win.'
Francis's day began to deteriorate when Dean Saunders turned an innocuous passage of play in the 61st minute into something more. Receiving the ball on the left he dummied to head towards the wing and then turned inside before hitting a shot from 20 yards inside Roberts' left-hand post.
Later it went thoroughly sour thanks to Atkinson and Saunders, an impression not relieved by a glancing header from Ferdinand that grazed a post just before the avalanche. 'I'd have been disappointed with a 2-1 defeat,' Francis said ruefully, 'never mind this.'
Aston Villa (4-3-3): N Spink; E Barrett, S Teale, P McGrath, S Staunton; K Richardson, R Houghton (G Cowans, 59 min), A Townsend; D Saunders, D Atkinson, T Daley. Subs not used: G Whittingham, M Oakes (gk). Manager: R Atkinson.
Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): T Roberts; K Ready, T Witter, D Peacock, C Wilson; A Impey, R Wilkins, S Barker, I Holloway (D White, 83 min); L Ferdinand, B Allen. Subs not used: R Brevett, J Stejskal (gk). Manager: G Francis.
Referee: K Morton (Bury St Edmunds).
Goals: Atkinson (1-0, 39 min); Ferdinand (1-1, 44 min); Saunders (2-1, 61 min); Atkinson (3-1, 89 min); Staunton (4-1, 90 min).