Football: Yorke on high as Villa seize title reins

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Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

THE DAY could not have gone better for Aston Villa, who returned to the top of the Premier League. In what everyone is once more calling a three-horse race, one of the runners drew, the other lost and, despite the acrobatics of Chris Woods, the one club who still think it is a four-horse race were rapped firmly on the knuckles by Villa themselves.

Wednesday have already worked one surprise this season, forcing that unprecedented FA U- turn over the venue of the all- Sheffield Cup semi-final, but coming to Villa Park and continuing their winning streak proved one hurdle too many. Two draining, euphoric cup ties in the previous six days did for them, and a Villa side mixing neat passing, lofted drives for Dean Saunders to chase and long punts for Cyrille Regis to knock down, were far superior.

Wednesday went into what they would have regarded as a six- pointer with a makeshift central defence which will have had Saunders straining at the leash before kick-off. Pairing the old legs of Viv Anderson with the young head of Simon Stewart was asking for trouble, which promptly arrived in the third minute when poor marking allowed Dwight Yorke to stab home Steve Staunton's low, hard cross.

Wednesday were poorly prepared for this, despite the fact that Kevin Richardson hesitated before delivering the decisive pass to Staunton, giving them time to organise. Carlton Palmer had soon traded places with Stewart, and Villa were contained for much of the rest of the half, but at great cost. Richardson and his midfield troops scarcely missed a pass for the rest of the afternoon, and without Palmer to do the chasing, Wednesday were swamped in the midfield.

It took the odd spurt of pace from Chris Waddle to quicken the pulse in what was, for the most part, a decorous, politely played first half, but five minutes before the interval the game came to life with the intervention of Saunders.

Unfortunately for him, his goalless run was to continue. In midweek against Tottenham it was the woodwork which denied him; this time it was Woods, who pulled off a series of gymnastic saves. Two in quick succession foiled Saunders from close range, then he dived at the Welshman's feet to terminate a menacing run. His best effort was reserved for Yorke who saw his header from Saunders's cross magnificently intercepted.

Among all that, Saunders clipped the bar with a dipping shot. By half-time he may well have had a hat-trick and deservedly so, but even without the goals, this was the perfect centre- forward's performance, always tireless and imaginative, selfish and selfless by turns.

Paul Warhurst did not score either, which is almost worth a headline in itself. The newest recruit to the England squad had one good shot saved, but otherwise Warhurst had a game to forget. His first effort, a sliced volley that followed hard on Villa's opener, was greeted with a jeer, but then spending his day in the company of Shaun Teale was probably not what he had in mind as a way of celebrating his elevation.

Villa upped the tempo in the second half and Wednesday, starting to wilt, could do little to intervene. The firmest brake was applied by the body of the referee Roger Milford, who got in the way of one of Richardson's runs, but defending against football of such enterprise and swagger was a draining experience. Sure enough, in the 58th minute it all proved too much for Roland Nilsson, who allowed himself to be dispossessed on the edge of his area by Yorke, and this time Woods was not in the way.

Whenever Wednesday did advance they found Teale and his fellow central-defender Paul McGrath - who continued despite taking a nasty blow to the head - solid in the extreme, while Waddle's crosses drifted away from their intended targets.

Villa could even afford to play out this glorious exhibition walking the ball around Wednesday's half with what looked like disdain. Were it not for the England goalkeeper, they would have had even greater cause for satisfaction.

Aston Villa: M Bosnich; E Barrett, S Staunton, S Teale, P McGrath, K Richardson, R Houghton, G Parker, D Saunders, D Yorke, C Regis. Subs not used: N Cox, D Small, N Spink (gk). Manager: R Atkinson.

Sheffield Wednesday: C Woods; R Nilsson, N Worthington, C Palmer, S Stewart (G Hyde, 58 min), V Anderson, D Wilson, C Waddle, P Warhurst, M Bright, J Sheridan. Subs not used: N Jemson, K Pressman (gk). Player-manager: T Francis.

Referee: R Milford (Bristol).

Goals: Yorke (1-0, 3 min); Yorke (2-0, 58 min).

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