Football: Villa tighten chains

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Sheffield United. . . . . .1

Littlejohn 17

Aston Villa . . . . . . . .2

Richardson 23, Fenton 25

Attendance: 18,402

IT WAS Sheffield United's misfortune to find Aston Villa, apparently sated with Coca-Cola for the past four games, in suddenly resolute mood. Villa claimed their first three points in eight games but their hosts needed them much more. After eight games without defeat United's run might have been ended much more emphatically and once again Harry Houdini, aka Dave Bassett, finds the chains tightening and the barrel filling with water.

Graham Fenton (twice) and Stefan Beinlich, with eight Premiership starts between them this season, scorned perfect chances to press their claims in the absence of the injured Dean Saunders and Dalian Atkinson.

Dane Whitehouse, with two shots in the final 10 minutes, almost produced a home point which would have given Sheffield United only the smaller consolation of being four points short of safety.

'We needed victory,' said Bassett simply. 'It's sod's law they haven't scored for God knows how long and haven't won in ages either, but that's what happens.'

Whitehouse's ball down the left defeated Ugo Ehiogu's outstretched leg but Franz Carr shot into the side-netting at the near post. Then Simon Tracey saved from a weak Andy Townsend effort while the German Beinlich, in a good position, couldn't dig the ball out.

But the height of Jostein Flo allied to long throws threatened more than once before United went ahead. Carl Bradshaw's throw into the area was flicked on by the Norwegian for the unmarked Adrian Littlejohn to head in from a kneeling position at the back post from two yards out.

Steve Staunton hit the United bar with a beautifully curling free-kick two minutes before Villa equalised. Beinlich's shot was blocked out to Kevin Richardson who struck home a strong right-footer from 25 yards.

Villa's wait for a Premiership goal from one of their own players had just gone over the 12-hour mark when he struck. However, they only had to wait two more minutes for their next. Richardson's ball over the top left Fenton alone in no-man's-land. He was quickly confronted by Tracey but the 19-year-old striker lifted the ball over the advancing keeper and tapped into an unguarded net for his first Premiership goal from four yards.

That came in the 25th minute and the young man could easily have finished with a hat-trick but the damage had already been done for United.