Having been warned that anything less than a place in Europe next season is likely to prompt wholesale changes in personnel in the summer, Villa relaunched their season by consigning relegation-threatened Coventry to a 13th defeat on a ground at in which they have not secured a League win in 61 years.
After goals by Dwight Yorke in each half raised the Villa marksman's tally for the season to 17, Coventry were handed an unexpected chance to steal a point when Villa's Steve Staunton headed passed his own goalkeeper in a bizarre misunderstanding with 13 minutes left.
The visitors, however, had offered little attacking threat and scarcely deserved a reward, having left the Villa goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, an isolated figure for much of a windswept evening.
An 18-day break in Villa's fixture programme had allowed Mark Draper, Andy Townsend and Ian Taylor to recover from injury, giving Brian Little his strongest hand for some time. It allowed the manager to exclude his unsettled midfielder, Sasa Curcic. Little had announced earlier yesterday that he would listen to offers for a player who cost him a club record pounds 4m to buy from Bolton last summer.
In the conditions, measured football was difficult.Villa dominated possession but their end product was disappointing until Yorke put them in front just before half-time. Having picked himself up after a foul by Paul Telfer, he turned a poor free-kick from Draper into a clever goal, steering a low header home from 12 yards off Steve Ogrizovic's right-hand post.
Until then, a Coventry defence recently reinforced by the arrival of pounds 2.5m centreback Gary Breen had looked secure enough, behind an unambitious formation in which only Darren Huckerby was deployed in an advanced position.
In the second half, Villa stepped up the pace and a second goal seemed only a matter of time. It arrived through another piece of Yorke magic. Collecting the ball on the edge of the penalty area with his back to goal, Yorke spun away from his marker before unleashing a beautifully angled left-foot shot that gave Ogrizovic no chance.
If Villa's points then looked comfortably in the bag, their sense of security disappeared three minutes later when Staunton, harrassed by Huckerby, misread Bosnich's intentions as Noel Whelan delivered a hopeful long pass and somehow managed to send the ball looping over the goalkeeper into the net.
The victory lifts Villa to fifth place and leaves Coventry, who had seemed capable of pulling away from danger, looking vulnerable again. "We are like an England Test batsman," Coventry's manager, Gordon Strachan, said, calling upon an unusual metaphor. "We are putting 30 runs on the board but then getting out when we should be going on to make 100."
Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Nelson, Ehiogu, Staunton, Southgate, Wright; Taylor, Draper, Townsend; Milosevic, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Joachim, Johnson, Tiler, Scimeca.
Coventry (3-5-2): Ogrizovic; Shaw, Breen Williams; Telfer, McAllister, Richardson (Strachan, 80), Whelan, Hall; Huckerby, Jess (Ndlovu, 71). Substitutes not used: Filan (gk), Borrows, Yevtushok.
Referee: K Burge (Mid Glamorgan).Reuse content