Football: Villa learn virtue of hard work

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 1 Aston Villa 2

Having identified this week as the most important so far in Aston Villa's stuttering season, their manager, Brian Little, talked up his side's renewed commitment after stealing away from Highfield Road with three points. The same and more will be needed if Villa are to retain their grip on the Coca-Cola Cup at Wimbledon tomorrow.

Villa, fourth in the Premiership last season, have been this year's under- achievers. Theirs is a team with no shortage of quality. But something has been lacking: in Little's view, effort.

"There is a lot of ability at this club but that has got to be allied to hard work," he said after Steve Staunton's late goal had provided a flattering victory. "There have been a couple of games recently when we felt we should have done better but I can have no complaints about the workrate and effort today."

Perhaps it was easy to say such things after Staunton's 30-yard net-stretcher had undone Coventry's impressively courageous fightback, a blow that may have been at the root of the ugly brawl which almost brought the contest to an unsavoury end, and from which Andy Townsend was lucky to escape unpunished after losing his cool in explosive fashion.

Villa had seemed content to defend what was, arguably, a fluke first- half goal, and would probably have been happy with the draw Coventry's equal commitment deserved. They were steady at the back, where Gareth Southgate was outstanding, but must have been relieved, even so, that Dion Dublin's equaliser, skilfully created by Darren Huckerby, was all their opponents had to show for a second half of sustained pressure.

Julian Joachim, pouncing on a mistake by Steve Ogrizovic, had provided Villa's lead, hooking the ball into an unguarded net from an implausible angle. But Little's assertion that Villa were "in control" seemed to overstate matters. Coventry, who had drawn six Premiership matches in a row, looked capable of maintaining their unbeaten run at least. With better finishing, they would have achieved more.

It took the entrance of Huckerby, their pounds 1m recruit from Newcastle, to put them level with 15 minutes remaining. The lightning-fast forward left Staunton for dead with a brilliant turn and sprint with his first involvement, then provided the pass from which Dublin scored.

Another draw seemed as good as won, but Villa suddenly grew ambitious, sensing perhaps that Coventry would feel that their job was done. On came Savo Milosevic, and Staunton, careful not to overtax himself after a five-week absence with hamstring trouble, at last offered his presence in attack. When space opened in front of him with five minutes remaining, he unleashed a bullet from the left foot to which Steve Ogrizovic had no answer.

Goals: Joachim (29) 0-1; Dublin (75) 1-1; Staunton (85) 1-2.

Coventry City (4-4-1-1): Ogrizovic; Shaw (Telfer, 67), Williams, Daish, Burrows (Borrows, 23); Whelan, Jess, McAllister, Salako; Ndlovu (Huckerby, 74), Dublin. Substitutes not used: Boland, Filan (gk).

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Staunton, Southgate; Nelson, Draper (Scimeca, 90), Curcic (Taylor, 60), Townsend, Wright; Johnson, Joachim (Milosevic, 75). Substitutes not used: Tiler, Rachel (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Coventry Daish, Borrows, Whelan; Aston Villa Johnson, Draper, Townsend.

Man of the match: Southgate.

Attendance: 21,340.