Football: Villa's 'killer' ball a damp squib

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa 0 Nottingham Forest 2 The give-and-go passing game is long established in the style manual. Villa have developed a new technique - give-and- stop.

It is a style that might appeal to the fitness freak who spends his winter on the treadmill in the gym but it offers little but frustration to the football fan. Pass, pass, pass and then when everyone has stopped moving, loft the ball into the penalty area, almost certainly from the left, from far too deep and far too late.

With the 'killer' ball from Villa being delivered with all the menace of a letter bomb labelled 'Danger: this package is intended to explode', Forest's back four enjoyed a near faultless afternoon. They had trouble only at corners and on those rare occasions when Villa got round the back. Even then, Graham Fenton headed Villa's best chance, from Dwight Yorke's cross, straight at Mark Crossley after 10 minutes.

Infuriating and fruitless as Villa's performance was, Ron Atkinson commended his side's endeavour and commitment - not what is expected to be the highlight of an Atkinson side, but at the moment Villa are surviving on cup success and little else.

'You're not supposed to mention words like 'relegation',' he said. 'The players have got to be aware that relegation could happen. But with three quarters of the season to go I'm telling you it won't' One point from six games certainly is relegation form.

Forest are flying high but their game was not working either. In frustration, Frank Clark pulled off Bryan Roy. 'Bryan's a bit of a luxury if we can't get the ball,' the Forest manager said.

Perhaps the worst thing for the game was the opening goal coming after only 34 seconds. After Earl Barrett fouled Roy, Stuart Pearce drove the penalty past Nigel Spink and Forest appeared to think that they had already done enough to ensure their unbeaten run would stretch into a 23rd game.

Some 70 minutes later Steve Stone bounced a shot past Spink from the edge of the area after Andy Townsend had half-cleared Ian Woan's corner, to give Forest extra security lest Villa should suddenly get lucky.

Whatever Villa's travails in Trabzon took out of their game, they have two matches to put it back before they set about overturning their Turkish opponents' 1-0 advantage in the Uefa Cup.

It would be a shame to waste all that good work against Internazionale, but as things stand the Premiership must be their priority.

Goals: Pearce (pen 1) 0-1; Stone (71) 0-2.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Spink; Barrett, McGrath, Ehiogu, King (Whittingham, 73); Houghton, Fenton (Parker, h-t), Townsend, Staunton; Yorke, Saunders.

Substitute not used: Oakes (gk).

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Haland, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Phillips, Bohinen, Woan; Roy (Lee, 65), Collymore. Substitutes not used: Black, Rigby (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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