Football: Villa work on booking their place in the sun

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 0

JOHN GREGORY illustrated Aston Villa's desperation to qualify for European competition next season when he revealed, before the game, that he was prepared to lead his side into the Intertoto Cup this summer, should all else have failed in this match.

This threat of no summer holidays to the Villa players was the main reason why their manager was able to inspire such a passionate performance against the new Premiership champions.

Unfortunately, for Villa, they could still face a long, hot summer as Blackburn's win yesterday, leaves them finishing in seventh place and they now need Chelsea to win the Cup-Winners' Cup on Wednesday to qualify for the last Uefa Cup position.

Perhaps they deserve that turn of luck, having achieved this victory with only 10 men from midway through the first half, when the defender Ugo Ehiogu was sent off for two bookable offences. An audacious chipped penalty by Dwight Yorke won the game.

Arsene Wenger returned to a full-strength Arsenal side, having made eight changes for their midweek defeat at Liverpool and there was clearly more urgency about his team yesterday. But with Arsenal already champions and this Saturday's FA Cup final still to follow, there was so much more on the game for Villa and it showed.

Villa Park was sold out and the home supporters had no other notion than success on their minds. It all made for a great atmosphere and, after a slow start, the colour on the terraces was matched by the action on the pitch.

The game came to life in the 21st minute when Julian Joachim seemed set to score with a header and David Seaman saved superbly as he tipped the ball over the bar by diving backwards at full stretch.

That raised the tempo of the match and the tempers followed suit soon after when Ehiogu was sent off in the 24th minute by the referee, Graham Poll.

The Villa defender had already been booked for blocking a Marc Overmars run after nine minutes and Poll had no option but to send him off for his second bookable offence when he clattered into Ian Wright from behind. The game could have turned nasty had Arsenal cared about it as much as their opponents.

Yorke struck his match winner from the penalty spot in the 36th minute after he had been held from behind by the French defender Gilles Grimandi. And he scored in style as he clipped a delicate chip straight into the middle of the goal leaving David Seaman stranded.

Arsenal were keener after the break and did by far the majority of the attacking, earning them a series of corners, and having an Emmanuel Petit shot which crashed against a post. They also had Patrick Vieira, Ian Wright and Grimandi booked.

Villa were hanging on by a thread for the last 10 minutes but they ended up jumping for joy. Arsenal's next celebrations, they hope, will save for Wembley on Saturday.

Aston Villa: Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Grayson; Wright, Barry, Draper, Hendrie, Nelson; Yorke, Joachim (Collymore, 74). Substitutes: Oakes (gk), Milosevic, Collymore, Hughes, Byfield.

Arsenal: Seaman; Grimandi, Adams, Keown, Winterburn; Parlour (Platt, 66), Vieira, Petit, Overmars; Wright (Wreh, 66), Anelka. Substitutes: Manninger (gk), Hughes, Bould.

Referee: Graham Poll (Tring).

Man of the Match: Yorke.

Attendance: 39,272.