Football: Villa draw spirit from Saunders and Bosnich

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The Independent Online
Deportivo La Coruna. .1 Aston Villa. .1

ASTON VILLA came within two minutes of securing a first- leg lead in their Uefa Cup second-round match in the Riazor Stadium last night. Then their Australian goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, who had brilliantly saved an early penalty, was beaten by Pedro Riesco in a goalmouth scramble, cancelling out the advantage established only nine minutes earlier by Dean Saunders.

Villa expected a Spanish inquisition; they cannot, however, have anticipated it would begin so early. After three minutes of pressure Paul McGrath conceded possession to Javier Manjarin. As the striker darted into the area, Shaun Teale took his legs, and Bebeto stepped forward confidently to take the spot-kick.

The Brazilian's shot was firmly struck and well placed, but Bosnich showed marvellous agility in springing to his left to touch the ball round the post with his fingertips. But then Bosnich makes a habit of such feats: his first touch of the season, moments after coming on as substitute, was a penalty save at Birmingham.

He soon had further opportunities to vindicate Ron Atkinson's decision to select him ahead of Nigel Spink. Twice in the next seven minutes Fran danced through with Villa's defence in disarray. Firstly he held the Deportivo midfielder's drive at the second attempt; then he left his area and harried Fran into going away from goal, his shot ending up in the side-netting.

Although Tony Daley and Dalian Atkinson were deployed in wide positions to stifle Deportivo's wing-backs, the duo gradually created danger of their own. A strong run along the right by Atkinson produced a shooting chance for Andy Townsend which Francisco Liano punched clear, before Daley set up Saunders in the 26th minute. The Welshman looked certain to score, only to poke the ball feebly wide from 16 yards.

Bebeto's classy compatriot, Mauro Silva, inspired most of Deportivo's better moments. There was a hint of desperation, though, in the way Maranjin tumbled under another Teale challenge two minutes after the interval. Monsieur Batta, Marseilles' lone representative in Europe this season, rightly scorned the home appeals.

While the Spaniards' early fire had effectively been snuffed out, they continued to enjoy greater possession. Villa's midfield trio were closed down whenever they tried to place a steadying foot on the ball, and Saunders was increasingly left to shoulder the attacking burden alone.

After all the pre-match hype about Bebeto, it was ironic that the bigger threat to Bosnich came from his lively partner, Maranjin, who was playing only because of an injury to Claudio.

But it was Saunders, taking Atkinson's pass just inside the area, who gave Villa hope that was cruelly dashed at the last by Pedro Riesco.

Deportivo La Coruna (1-3-4-2): Liano; Djukic; Nando, Ribera, Voro (Marcos Vales, 67); Mauro Silva, Donato, Fran, Lopez Recarte; Bebeto, Manjarin (Pedro Riesco, 77).

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Bosnich; Barrett, Teale, McGrath, Small; Richardson, Townsend, Cowans; Atkinson, Saunders, Daley.

Referee: M Batta (France).

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