Football: Villa's passion peak peters out

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The Independent Online
Queen's Park Rangers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Aston Villa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

ASTON VILLA'S final League match mimicked their season as thrilling possibilities gave way to weariness and resignation. Their manager, Ron Atkinson, expressed annoyance at a third successive defeat; their supporters were unperturbed. They had come to praise the League runners-up, not to bury them, and this they did with indefatigable fervour from the first moment to the last.

Their passion was not matched by the early activity on the pitch, but 10 minutes before the break Villa provided them with two moments to cherish and celebrate. First Paul McGrath, realising his battle-scarred legs were failing to match the speed of Les Ferdinand as both sprinted after a through-ball, launched into a tackle inside the box which dragged the ball away from the England centreforward just as he was about to shoot.

Within a minute, there was further delight as Tony Daley seized on a loose ball and waltzed into the box past Darren Peacock and a bemused Alan McDonald before rolling the ball past Tony Roberts. It looked so simple, you wondered why he hadn't thought of it earlier.

After the interval Villa continued where they had left off, with Garry Parker and Dalian Atkinson narrowly failing to capitalise on attacks of breathtaking speed.

But Rangers drew level after 67 minutes when Ferdinand, fed ideally by McDonald's accurate pass, ran clear of the defender Shaun Teale and scored with a low shot inside Bosnich's left-hand post. Three minutes later, McGrath was booked after fouling Ferdinand.

A quarter-of-an-hour from time Villa found themselves ending with a whimper rather than a bang as Bradley Allen, surrounded by four defenders, contrived to find space to squeeze the ball wide of the keeper to secure a victory which assures Rangers of being the leading London club this season.

Atkinson rushed off after the game to see the violinist - and Villa supporter - Nigel Kennedy in concert. There will be little relaxation for him before he turns to consideration of how his side can play something better than second fiddle next season.

Queen's Park Rangers: Roberts; Bardsley, Wilson, Wilkins, Peacock, McDonald, Impey, Barker, Ferdinand, Allen, Sinton.

Aston Villa: Bosnich; Barrett, Staunton (Cox, 80 min), Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton (Carruthers, 78), Parker, Saunders, Atkinson, Daley.

Referee: P A Durkin (Portland, Dorset).