Football: Villa man decks to disarm 'Armada'

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The Independent Online
RON ATKINSON, already the holder of a BA (Hons) in Football Philosophy and Strategy, revealed an unexpected penchant for history as he put the finishing touches to Aston Villa's preparations for tonight's Uefa Cup second round, second leg match against Deportivo La Coruna at Villa Park.

'The Armada are coming,' the Villa manager warned, recalling that the Spaniards sailed against England from La Coruna some 400 years ago in the early days of European knock-out competition. 'We did a Duke of Wellington getting a draw there. Now we need to do a Francis Drake here and finish them off.'

Atkinson joked about lighting beacons and playing bowls, but the ball Dean Saunders deposited in Deportivo's net a fortnight ago could hardly have had more impact on La Coruna's crowd had it been one of Drake's cannonballs. Despite a late equaliser, that away goal gives Villa an advantage their manager is keen to press home.

'They have to score so we mustn't give them any encouragement early on,' he said. 'Our fans are sometimes too fair to the opposition, but this time I want them to be so biased that their players really feel it. Deportivo know they've got a task and they're worried that they might get a hostile reception. We mustn't disappoint them on either count.'

The return of Saunders after chicken-pox may be crucial against opponents who have conceded only four goals in 12 games. His link with Dalian Atkinson - on song with four goals in three matches - greatly troubled Deportivo.

Villa also expect to have Mark Bosnich back after World Cup duty. The Australian keeper, who saved a penalty in Coruna, flew in from Sydney tired but unscathed yesterday. With Steve Staunton (groin) and Paul McGrath (hamstring) both doubtful, Dariusz Kubicki stands by.

Deportivo, who like Villa are joint second in their domestic league and have won all their matches since the first leg, expect to restore the Spanish international Claudio after injury to partner Brazil's Bebeto. Faced with strikers of such pedigree, Ron Atkinson is anxious to ensure Villa do not 'go out to the sound of trumpets and let them pour through'. His time at Atletico Madrid taught him that Spain's better sides like to attack, 'but I always think their defenders can be vulnerable.'

Atkinson, unbeaten at home in Continental competition, returned to history to sum up his hopes. 'The two best nights I've had in Europe were against Spanish teams - when West Brom beat Valencia and Manchester United put out Barcelona after losing the first leg 2-0. The crowd that night were like screaming banshees. With similar backing, I might get the hat-trick.'

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