Football: Villa's chance squandered by Saunders

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa. . . .0

Manchester City. .0

DEAN SAUNDERS, left out of Aston Villa's starting line-up, squandered a penalty nine minutes from the end of a humdrum Premiership match at Villa Park last night. The substitute's horribly miscued spot- kick ensured a stalemate in the snow which ended Manchester City's run of five successive away defeats and lifted them out of the relegation zone on goal difference.

After their bleak Sabbath at Bolton, Ron Atkinson had rung the changes in the Villa side. Four players were officially injured, while Houghton, Cox and Saunders were dropped. With only a last-gasp goal at Tranmere to show for two cup ties against First Division opposition, the Villa manager was clearly unhappy with his strike force.

Graham Fenton, a 19-year-old Geordie who was among the goals during a loan spell at West Brom, came in for his Premiership debut. Mobile, busy and surprisingly confident, his early contributions included a strong run and shot which Tony Coton held dropping to his knees.

City, whose 4-0 capitulation at Coventry had intensified the pressure on their manager, Brian Horton, gave as good as they got during a first half which came alive only in the final minutes. Ugo Ehiogu might have claimed his first Villa goal but sent an unchallenged header over from Garry Parker's free-kick.

As City retaliated, Mike Sheron saw his header cleared off the line by Parker, while Mark Bosnich had to stretch to tip over a speculative cross-shot by Steve McMahon.

Before that flurry neither side had produced so much as a half- chance. The conditions obviously played a part in the impasse. Two corners of the pitch were covered in snow, while the sections which had remained under tarpaulins before the match were various shades of green, giving the impression of a patchwork quilt.

The surface could not, however, excuse the plethora of misplaced passes. Steve Lomas, playing a quickfire one-two with Sheron, showed how simple it could be in the 63rd minute. But having held off Earl Barrett's challenge, he placed his shot a yard wide.

City, already without Quinn, Curle and Flitcroft, suffered another setback when Terry Phelan appeared to damage a hamstring and had to be helped off.

Almost immediately, Villa sent on Saunders for the ineffective Whittingham. The switch seemed to have reaped an undeserved reward nine minutes later when the substitute, chasing Shaun Teale's pass, was sent sprawling just inside the penalty area by Richard Edghill. After a delay during which the referee lectured McMahon for a protest which smacked of gamesmanship, the Welshman directed his kick a yard wide. It could yet prove to be a turning point in both City's and Horton's fortunes.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Bosnich; Barrett, Ehiogu, Teale, Small; Yorke, Parker, Richardson, Townsend; Fenton, Whittingham (Saunders, 72). Substitutes not used: Cox, Spink (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-2): Coton; Edghill, Vonk, Kernaghan, Phelan (Hill, 69); Lomas, Rocastle, McMahon, Simpson; Shutt, Sheron. Substitutes not used: Griffiths, Dibble (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Looe, Cornwall).