Football: Villa felled by Southgate's penalty curse

West Ham United 2 Aston Villa 2 aet; 2-2 at 90 minutes: West Ham win 5-4 on pens
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The Independent Online
LIGHTNING struck twice, knocking poor Gareth Southgate to the ground and Aston Villa out of the Worthington Cup at Upton Park last night. The man destined to go to his grave haunted by the penalty miss that put England out of the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany was the unfortunate soul whose kick decided a quarter-final tie that had belatedly caught fire.

For Andreas Kopke at Wembley, read Shaka Hislop. With the penalty shoot- out standing at 4-4 - Trevor Sinclair for West Ham and Alan Wright for the visitors had missed - Marc Keller put the home side ahead again, only for Hislop to fall to his left and save Southgate's effort.

All that after Villa had taken a 2-1 lead through Dion Dublin in the 89th minute, only to be pegged back by an even later penalty from Paolo Di Canio and taken to an inconclusive period of extra time.

So the Worthington Cup, so often a solace to Villa in times of trouble, provided no balm this time. They were seeking a place in the semi-final of the competition's many guises for the 11th time, which would have set a record. Their manager, John Gregory, who is banned from the touchline, sat in the posh seats just behind his trigger-happy chairman, Doug Ellis, and saw his side give a spirited account of themselves, taking the lead early as well as late on.

Kick-off was delayed because of an unspecified incident on the District Line and anyone arriving more than four minutes late missed the opening goal. Neil Ruddock was guilty of adopting a casual air in attempting to shepherd the ball out of play near the byline. Paul Merson, challenging much more whole-heartedly, got over a cross which Ian Taylor guided into the far corner of the net.

Merson had caused alarm even before that with a volleyed cross that Dion Dublin could not quite reach, and for a long time the sum of West Ham's efforts at retaliation did not amount to much. Shots from Steve Lomas and Neil Ruddock, held by David James, were all they managed until half- time, when there were boos from the crowd of 23,974 - a decent size compared to many of the weekend's FA Cup ties.

Dublin, meanwhile, had two opportunities to increase the lead, from Steve Watson's firm header across goal and a half-clearance. Paul Kitson's introduction at half-time for the injured Joe Cole prompted the home side into a livelier burst at the start of the second half, in which Frank Lampard shot too high and Ruddock's header was blocked by Taylor. But Julian Joachim's speed almost caught them out. In the 53rd minute, he was suddenly away, capitalising on a error by Javier Margas, only to be denied by Rio Ferdinand's splendid recovering challenge.

One break, however, and suddenly the force was with West Ham. Ferdinand found Di Canio, close to being offside on the right of the penalty area, and he was allowed to cut back an astute pass for Lampard, who swept a drive past James.

Even when defensive hesitancy allowed Joachim to cross for Dublin to volley in superbly with barely a minute left, they refused to bow out. As play swept to the other end, Wright tripped Kitson and Di Canio rolled in the penalty more calmly than anyone had a right to expect. Southgate, alas, was unable to do the same. Another Pizza Hut advertisement will hardly be any consolation.

As the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, put it: "He could have said `leave off, I've had enough of that', but he was brave enough to take it." Gregory said that his captain had been prepared to take any of the kicks: "It was an ideal position for him and should have been the perfect scenario for him to score the winner."

Villa's manager, choosing his words carefully to avoid any suggestion of more punishment, was more concerned about the penalty decision for Di Canio's equaliser. "I don't think it would have been given at the other end," he said.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Margas, Ferdinand, Ruddock; Sinclair, Lampard, Lomas, Cole (Kitson, h-t), Keller; Di Canio, Wanchope (Omoyinmi, 114). Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Foe, Minto.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): James; Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry; Watson, Boateng, Merson (Stone, 75), Taylor, Wright; Dublin, Joachim (Vassell, 112). Substitutes not used: Cutler (gk), Samuel, Calderwood.

Referee: S Lodge (South Yorkshire).