Football: Villa foiled at the finish

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa 1

Staunton 46

Crystal Palace 1

Southgate 87

Attendance: 23,305

IT IS a footballing cliche and Aston Villa will now be feeling its pertinence - the game is not over until the final whistle. Twice last week the Villa Park faithful have seen three points snatched away in the final minutes of a canter. Three points from the opening three games was not in Ron Atkinson's script.

In future occasions, when the marriage of John Fashanu and his new colleagues progresses beyond tentative familiarity, such matches will probably have been already sealed. For the moment, their style fits uncomfortably between two stools: route Fashanu and the more traditional fluid pass-and-move possession. However, they always looked more effective and comfortable building through the middle and their best chance of the first half, a Ray Houghton drive, had used Fashanu as a link in the chain rather than as a battering ram.

Palace, meanwhile, showed resolve in defence but little enterprise. Both Chris Armstrong and Bruce Dyer, his pacy partner, had excellent chances in the first half on the break, but failed to finish them.

A scrappy game needed a goal and a scrappy goal came a minute into the second half. Nigel Martyn looked to palm a Steve Staunton corner over his bar but, with Fashanu ominously close, he misjudged the dip and curl, and the ball found his far, top corner.

That injection of confidence might have proved disastrous for Villa as the match ticked away to a close. For Palace are a hardy bunch and they sounded a warning when Armstrong failed to capitalise on a gaping goal following a mix-up between Paul McGrath and Mark Bosnich in the Villa goal. Seconds later, the striker rose in the area to find Gareth Southgate, breaking on the right, whose shot squirmed over the line at the near-post.

The equaliser had arrived three minutes from time, and Atkinson was not amused. 'We committed suicide,' he said afterwards. 'They got back into a game when they thought they were dead and buried.'