Football: Villa's winning ways return

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Aston Villa 3 Southampton 0

Draper 13

Joachim 66

Dublin 89

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 32,203

IT MAY have taken the help of having Southampton controversially reduced to 10 men yesterday, but a long-awaited victory for Aston Villa has perhaps brought them sufficient hope that a brake can be applied to their slide. But the result hinged on the strange dismissal of Claus Lundekvam, which further depressed Southampton and their manager, David Jones, who, not surprisingly, admitted he was "totally confused" by the curious sending off.

The dismissal just before half-time came when Southampton were only a goal down. Lundekvam, who had already been booked, felled Ian Taylor, who was breaking away, but the assistant linesman had already flagged for offside. The referee, Neale Barry, brandished a yellow card in the direction of Lundekvam and Jason Dodd. He then went to speak to his assistant before returning to issue a red card to Lundekvam for "a second bookable offence".

Jones spoke to the referee at half-time. "He said he saw the foul before the offside - I didn't understand it, but it changed the course of the game." The referee said: "Lundekvam committed a `reckless foul tackle' while the ball was in play. I awarded the free-kick and was then aware of the linesman's flag. I changed the decision to offside but because the ball was still in play when the foul was made the booking stood." Why he waited so long before giving the red card remained a mystery to all but himself.

Within six minutes of the start yesterday, Villa's own worry lines - getting more severe by the day after 11 matches without a win - further deepened. Alan Thompson, who had just returned after suspension, stretched a hamstring with only three minutes gone and was replaced by Lee Hendrie. Three minutes later, Matt Le Tissier lifted a glorious pass from inside his own half to Egil Ostenstad, whose direct run on goal was crucially intercepted by Alan Wright.

At least Villa treated the threat as a challenge, and in the 13th minute Mark Draper made a 25-yard run that Southampton simply allowed to happen before he shot in off the far post. Southampton reacted well only when Le Tissier did the prompting. Otherwise Villa were the sharper, especially when Steve Stone offered tempting crosses that Dion Dublin and Julian Joachim failed to take up.

Having survived a free-kick from Draper that Neil Moss's finger-tips deflected, Southampton ought to have levelled as Le Tissier exchanged passes with Scott Hiley. But he failed to find accuracy when the ball returned to him.

Southampton's fortunes took a turn for the worse with Lundekvam's sending off. Under-strength and feeling aggrieved, they found it increasingly difficult to cope with being out-numbered in midfield and with the pace of Joachim. Dublin also enjoyed greater freedom and, once Paul Merson had replaced Draper, Southampton found themselves up against individual power, speed and subtlety. Yet team understanding was still vague.

Comfort for Villa eventually came in the 66th minute when a typically astute forward-pass from Merson nevertheless bounced awkwardly for Joachim, who did well to lift it high over the fast-approaching Moss. The link between Merson and Joachim prospered.

Circumstances undoubtedly favoured them but Villa had so badly needed a victory under any conditions that over the final 15 minutes they visibly gained buoyancy. Dublin began taking on defenders on the ground and, more importantly, beating them in the air. Indeed, his leap to meet Stone's long cross at the far post near the end was a splendid example of his potential. The ensuing header for Villa's third could well prove a welcome turning point in the club's frustrating season of two halves. They are fifth, and it is difficult to see them higher.

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