Leeds United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
ANDY TOWNSEND, sporting the scars of combat on his nose and left arm after two rugged challenges by Leeds United players, scored the fourth goal of his Aston Villa career yesterday - and like each of the previous three, it proved to be the match-winner.
Unfortunately for the vast majority of the 27,000 spectators, not to mention those suffering on Sky, the sides had spent most of the 69 minutes prior to Townsend's moment of sweet retribution providing a graphic illustration of why they are so far adrift of Manchester United at the top of the Premiership.
Both have occupied second spot this season, Leeds as recently as Christmas. However, on the evidence of a match of myriad misplaced passes, they would be advised to reverse the old adage and concentrate on the Cup. Villa are already through to the fifth round of the FA version - as well as the last four of the League Cup - while Leeds go into Wednesday's replay against Oxford desperately needing victory to revive their season.
They produced precious little to suggest that it will be a formality. Leeds have gone six League matches without a win, and their away record, while better than last season's shameful litany, is the worst in the top half of the table.
Even after Townsend struck, beating Mark Beeney with a left-foot shot after scampering on to Neil Cox's long pass down the right and cutting into the penalty area, Leeds mounted only token retaliation. Thirteen months and 53 games have passed since Howard Wilkinson's team won a match after falling behind; a statistic which reveals much about their lack of resilience.
Without their injured top scorer, Rod Wallace, Leeds lacked a rapier thrust to complement the bludgeon of Brian Deane. Gary McAllister and Gary Speed failed to support their strikers, and Leeds' three best opportunities were all gifted by Villa, Shaun Teale coming closest with a 24th- minute header against the underside of his own crossbar.
Villa's sporadic chances had fallen exclusively to Dalian Atkinson, now at peace with his managerial namesake after a recent transfer request. Twice he finished tamely with the unmarked Dean Saunders calling for a pass, while on another occasion he headed straight at Beeney.
If anything, Villa looked even shorter on inspiration than Leeds. They were ponderous in midfield, while Tony Daley, like Ryan Giggs before him, received little change out of the visitors' impressive right-back, Gary Kelly.
Yet whereas in the second half Leeds seemed content to accept the status quo, Villa regained their customary defensive cohesiveness and clearly sensed that it might take only one goal. Atkinson had a stinging drive pushed behind by Beeney before the hard-working Saunders sent a flashing header too close to the near post for the keeper's comfort.
But just when the match looked certain to be goalless as well as graceless, Townsend - who had required treatment either side of half-time after tangling with Jon Newsome and Deane respectively - left the former trailing before clinching Villa's first home win over Leeds for 16 years.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Bosnich; Barrett, Teale, McGrath, Staunton (Cox, 59); Houghton (Yorke, 74), Richardson, Townsend, Daley; Saunders, Atkinson. Substitute not used: Spink (gk).
Leeds United (4-4-2): Beeney; Kelly, Fairclough, Newsome, Dorigo; Strachan, McAllister, Speed, Hodge; Deane, White (Whelan, 71). Substitutes not used: Pemberton, Lukic (gk).
Referee: J Borrett (Great Yarmouth).
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