Football: Villa fail to convince

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa. . . .0

Coventry City. . .0

YOU had to sympathise with the Aston Villa supporters yesterday. A frustrating, slightly lacklustre performance by their team had appeared to have the silver lining of pushing the club a point further ahead of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League. Then the thunderbolts landed.

A groan rumbled as United, 90 miles away but monitored by

radio, equalised against Sheffield Wednesday. Then, just as the supporters were leaving, the news filtered through that their championship rivals had got a winner at Old Trafford. Open dismay broke out: the wreckage of a hundred transistors is probably littering the Holte End this morning.

No wonder Villa fans need convincing that theirs is a team capable of winning the championship. In mid-season the club had to drop their prices to entice people in numbers and even yesterday the tannoy issued a reminder to create 'an atmosphere that cannot be rivalled anywhere'. You cannot imagine such urgings at Anfield or Elland Road.

Perhaps the supporters knew something in advance, as this was not a vintage Villa display. Coventry came here with defence as their priority but such was the lack of the home side's incisiveness that the save Jonathan Gould made to deny Dean Saunders after 25 seconds proved to be by far his best of the match. By the end the visitors looked just as likely to score.

'We had enough opportunities,' Ron Atkinson, the Villa manager, moaned, 'but we couldn't convert them. We ran the match from start to finish. To give them credit, they kept sticking their feet in well.'

In the first minute Dalian Atkinson, following up on Gould's diving save of Saunders' shot, should have scored but pushed the ball wide of the far post. Then, after Ray Houghton had acrobatically volleyed the ball to him from the left wing, Atkinson blazed over. Earlier in the season the Villa striker was scoring from all parts of the pitch, yesterday he looked lacking in confidence.

You could not accuse his managerial namesake of the same. The game was 24 minutes old before he strolled out of the players' tunnel and, looking like a man going for a walk in the sun, wandered slowly to his touchline position. Atkinson says he is not nervous as the season's climax looms, but this was a grand act of nonchalance.

The first half, a staccato affair, ended with Mickey Gynn heading Steve Staunton's corner off the line but instead of launching a post-interval onslaught, things became more frantic.

After 63 minutes, Dalian Atkinson shot instead of passing to unmarked colleagues and later Saunders turned brilliantly but fired over. Consequently it was Coventry who got stronger and who provided the outstanding talent in John Williams.

The winger, a beanpole of a player, looks too tall to possess the skill he has, yet one run, past four players, was breathtaking. If an unkind bobble had not denied him proper contact with his shot, Villa Park, the scene of several goals of the month this season, would have witnessed another.

Villa supporters will hope Williams gets his deserts tomorrow, against Manchester United.

Aston Villa: M Bosnich; E Barrett, S Staunton, S Teale, P McGrath, K Richardson, R Houghton, G Parker, D Saunders, D Atkinson, D Yorke (A Daley, 83 min). Subs not used: B Small, N Spink (gk). Manager: R Atkinson.

Coventry City: J Gould; B Borrows, P Babb, P Atherton, M Gynn, D Rennie, L McGrath, L Hurst, M Quinn, R Wegerle (L Jenkinson, 67 min), J Williams. Subs not used: D Busst, S Ogrizovic (gk). Manager: R Gould.

Referee: A Gunn (Sussex).