Football: Villa short of winning blueprint

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The Independent Online
Southampton. . .2

Aston Villa. . .0

MAYBE it is the sea air, Birmingham is about as far as you can get from a beach after all, but no one could describe Southampton as a happy venue for Aston Villa. They lost yesterday to underline a dismal record that incorporates only two wins since 1936-37. They must spell The Dell with an 'H'.

Their victories here, too, have been the portent of better things. In 1981 they won the championship, the following year success at Southampton was the prelude to European Cup success. Make what you will of their failure yesterday but they looked way short of championship material.

The match was sealed with goals either side of half-time from Nicky Banger and Iain Dowie, thus providing Southampton with only their second victory in nine matches. It also gives extra breathing space between themselves and the clubs in the relegation places.

Both goals were the by-product of the languid brand of artistry that is Matthew Le Tissier. The Channel Islander can be an infuriating bystander but, when in the mood, there are few players in Britain capable of creating such havoc.

It was probably Kevin Richardson's fault. Le Tissier was drifting pleasantly, but ineffectively, in and out of the play when the Villa midfield player began a tussle in the 40th minute which led to both of them being booked. Le Tissier, who had some justification in feeling aggrieved at his caution, took the resulting free-kick and then played the ball forward again for Banger to find the corner of the net with a low shot.

Le Tissier had his retribution but he was not finished and, in the second half, he had the Villa back four dancing to his swerves and dummies. Twice he carved his way past three defenders and was denied only by Nigel Spink. But, with the visitors' concentration honed on him, they left Dowie on his own when Kevin Moore headed forward in the 63rd minute.

Dowie is the antithesis of Le Tissier, all power and toil. Even running looks hard work at times but Dowie made the most of the space he was allowed to enter the Villa area from the right and lash a shot from a narrow angle into the far side of the net.

It was no more than Southampton deserved. For the first half-hour they had the bulk of the possession but seemed clueless what to do with it. However, once they were ahead they took a stranglehold that restricted Villa, second in thr Premier League before yesterday, to only one corner in the 75th minute.

Dean Saunders twice forced saves from Tim Flowers with long-range shots in the opening quarter but it was symptomatic of a rather spineless display that, until the last 10 minutes, Villa's best opportunity was a sliced clearance from Moore that almost spun back into the Southampton net. The home players always looked more capable of winning tackles that mattered, no one more so than Terry Hurlock.

'You began well,' a reporter prompted Ron Atkinson afterwards. 'Yes we warmed up beautifully,' the Villa manager replied. 'We looked comfortable until they scored but then we weren't at the races.'

Southampton: T Flowers; J Dodd, M Adams, T Hurlock, R Hall, K Moore, M Le Tissier, N Banger, I Dowie, N Maddison, F Benali. Substitutes: J Kenna, L Powell, I Andrews (gk). Manager: I Branfoot.

Aston Villa: N Spink; E Barrett, S Staunton, S Teale, P McGrath, K Richardson, M Breitkreutz (N Cox, 68 min), G Parker, D Saunders, D Yorke, B Small (S Beinlich, 70 min). Substitute not used: S Oakes (gk). Manager: R Atkinson.

Referee: P Wright (Northwich).

Goals: Banger (1-0, 40 min); Dowie (2-0, 63 min).