Football: Villa show picks up X-rating

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The Independent Online
Grimsby Town. . . .1

Aston Villa. . . . 2

VILLA'S fortuitous success at Blundell Park generated more questions than answers. Not simply concerning the Midlanders' shortening odds to see the Twin Towers twice but wider issues of self-control and crowd control, the absence of which blighted a rousing FA Cup tie on two occasions.

A brief brawl between Shaun Teale, the Villa stopper, and Town's Steve Livingstone expanded into a distinctly unfriendly 12-man argument and ended with both wrongdoers dismissed. Teale would have been even hotter under the collar except that Livingstone had ripped it open.

Afterwards, the engaging Teale commented that 'the referee could have calmed things with yellow cards' but Ian Hemley really had no choice. 'The Grimsby player used an elbow and the Villa player used violent conduct in retaliation,' he said. When players lose their discipline, the likes of Hemley represent the only barrier stopping football from following rugby union, where the odd fisticuffs is considered a legitimate part of the pageant.

Teale's three-match ban is particularly painful as it excludes him from the first leg of Villa's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final at Tranmere and the FA Cup tie at Bolton or Arsenal.

The remaining players were models of restraint - a mood ignored by 100 home supporters, who reacted to the final whistle as if it were a starting gun. Evading a thin string of stewards, they dashed down the field to hurl coins into the visitors' enclosure. 'You're just a bunch of w***ers', the Villa fans replied - to applause from those Town loyalists who had stayed in the stands. The FA may consider action.

Grimsby's frustration was caused by Paul McGrath, a paragon of defensive discipline. Alan Buckley's enterprising First Division side continually encroached into McGrath's domain, but only once got the better of him. 'He goes walkabout, hardly trains and then plays like that,' an admiring Buckley said. Few would deny McGrath one Wembley visit this season.

He may be honoured with two. Villa possess the traditional knock-out ingredients of spirit, pace, luck and an ability to win away. These were evident after 13 minutes of Town pressure when Ron Atkinson's fast-thinking men stole ahead, Dalian Atkinson providing Ray Houghton with a tap-in.

McGrath held the Midlanders together as the Mariners redoubled their efforts. Paul Futcher, who has lost a yard of pace and hair but nothing else, and Gary Childs continually coaxed Town upfield towards the marauding Clive Mendonca and Paul Groves. Hemley missed Earl Barrett's push on Mendonca in the box but Villa's respite was short: McGrath and Barrett were beaten by Groves' elegant trickery, the striker climaxing the most positive of runs with a low shot past Mark Bosnich.

But Town's hopes of a deserved replay were ruined late on by a true touch of Premiership class, Dwight Yorke cutting in to finish emphatically.

Goals: Houghton (13) 0-1; Groves (58) 1-1; Yorke (78) 1-2.

Grimsby Town (4-4-2): Crichton; Ford, Futcher, Handyside (Lever, 83), Croft; Gilbert, Dobbin (Shakespeare, 83), Groves, Childs; Livingstone, Mendonca. Substitute not used: Clohessey (gk).

Aston Villa: Bosnich; Barrett, Teale, McGrath, Staunton; Houghton, Richardson, Townsend, Daley (Cox, 24); Saunders (Yorke, 34), Atkinson. Substitute not used: Spink (gk).

Referee: I Hemley (Bedfordshire).