Alpay the unlikely hero as Villa claim lucky win

Aston Villa 2 Charlton Athletic 1
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The Independent Football

Turkey defender Alpay marked his return to the Aston Villa team by scoring his first goal in three years of wearing the club's colours.

Alpay was drafted in following injuries to Olof Mellberg and Ronny Johnsen. And the £5.6million buy from Fenerbache in the summer of 2000 took his chance by opening the scoring.

Whether he can win over the supporters remains to be seen. He celebrated his goal by putting a finger to his lips. He was given a hard time by some fans today, who have never forgiven him for handing in a transfer request after the 2002 World Cup. Alpay made his first home start in the league for 11 months while Ulises De La Cruz was also drafted in.

Midfielder Gareth Barry returned following a two–match suspension while Darius Vassell was on the bench, just two weeks after a pelvic operation.

Charlton defender Mark Fish also returned after a ban while Luke Young was recalled after suffering a stomach upset that ruled him out of the defeat by Manchester United.

Barry took a flick–on from Juan Pablo Angel in his stride after five minutes and rattled in a shot from 20 yards that goalkeeper Dean Kiely took comfortably.

Charlton should have taken the lead after six minutes when Claus Jensen released Radostin Kishishev on the right. He weighed the situation up before dragging a shot well wide of the target from a good position. Then Barry delivered a cross into the path of Angel but he could not get any weight or direction on his header.

Charlton goalkeeper Kiely breathed sigh of relief after 17 minutes when he raced out and only partially cleared the ball while under pressure from Lee Hendrie. Gavin McCann's long–range effort drifted over Kiely's head but over the top as well.

Paolo di Canio won a free–kick for Charlton in the corner off Mark Delaney after some dogged work. The visitors then came within inches of taking the lead after 24 minutes when Shaun Bartlett turned quickly only to see his shot come off the underside of the bar.

Villa had another let–off two minutes later when Kishishev lobbed goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen but found the side–netting with his effort. Alpay put Villa ahead in the 37th minute. He hammered the ball home from just inside the area after Hendrie's corner had been headed back by Angel.

Charlton look stunned after having the majority of possession until then but there was no disguising the quality of the finish from the Turkey central defender. Villa's confidence grew after the goal and Peter Whittingham and Angel both went close with spectacular efforts before half– time.

Villa should have added a second in the 53rd minute when Marcus Allback had only Kiely to beat from six yards but knocked his effort against the goalkeeper's body.

Whittingham latched onto the rebound but sent a wild shot into the crowd with Charlton trying to regroup. Jlloyd Samuel added a superb second for Villa in the 56th minute by curling a shot beyond Kiely from 20 yards.

Alpay came close to adding to his tally on the hour when he got on the end of Whittingham's cross. However Matt Holland got a vital touch for Charlton and deflected Alpay's header to safety.

Villa goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen then did well to tip over a powerful header from Jensen as the visitors hit back. However Charlton again came under the cosh with Angel and Alpay squandering good chances in quick succession.

Parker then found the target for the visitors but his effort was ruled out because of an infringement. Jensen should have pulled a goal back for Charlton, only to send a six–yard shot high over the bar following a cross from Bartlett.

However sub Kevin Lisbie did reduce the arrears in the 86th minute after a mix–up between Sorensen and Alpay but it was too little too late.

Aston Villa 2
Alpay 37, Samuel 55

Charlton Athletic 1
Lisbie 86

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 31,410