Aston Villa 1 Charlton Athletic 0: Davis the hero of the hour amid pantomime villainy

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The Independent Football

"It's a tough old game in the Premiership," said Alan Curbishley. "You can never think you've arrived." The Charlton manager was pondering a fourth consecutive defeat, but his words should also serve as a warning and an inspiration to Aston Villa's match-winner, Steven Davis.

The 20-year-old from Ballymena, an appropriate marksman on the day football mourned the majesty of George Best, would certainly seem to have arrived. He has been a first-team fixture for a year, is the hub of Northern Ireland's midfield and Villa's leading scorer this season.

Davis was also watched here by a scout from one of the League's big three. Which is why the Villa manager David O'Leary reputedly wants Doug Ellis to triple the £5,000 a week paid to a player that his assistant, Roy Aitken, hailed as "one of the first names on the team-sheet".

Whether Davis' 5ft 7in frame holds greatness remains to be seen. Yet the goal that earned Villa back-to-back wins for the first time in a year - a fierce volley as Charlton cleared following Milan Baros' shot against the bar - suggested more to his armoury than box-to-box endeavour.

What he can take from Curbishley's lament is that there is no room for resting on your laurels. For if you do, they may well turn out to be thorns. James Milner knows all about being the next big thing and is confident that Davis will not become carried away by his fast-rising profile.

Milner, the Premiership's youngest scorer with Leeds three years ago, acknowledged that life can be "difficult" for a player suddenly thrust into the spotlight. "Look at [Wayne] Rooney and the pressure he is under," said the 19-year-old winger on long-term loan from Newcastle.

"I'm sure Davo can deal with the hype. As well as the talent he has, he trains hard. He also has experienced players around him that he can learn from, guys like Gavin McCann and Eirik Bakke, and he's not the sort who won't listen."

There was an 88th-minute cameo which, as much as his fifth goal of the campaign, typified Davis. Having tried an audacious nutmeg on Chris Perry, only to be dispossessed, he sprinted 20 yards to make the sliding tackle which prevented Herman Hreidarsson launching an attack.

How thankful we were for Best's compatriot. Almost the only noise during the first half was the pantomime villain-style booing of a giant-screen plug for Deadly Doug, a sequel to the book Ellis famously signed and presented to the Queen.

The spectacle was hardly enhanced by Charlton's failure to offer anything more than defensive obduracy. Gone is the counter-attacking zest of early autumn, Curbishley tracing the drain of confidence back to the high spot of their season, success in the Carling Cup shoot-out at Chelsea.

Instead of being a lift-off point, Charlton were flat against Bolton the next weekend and are now flirting with free fall. Some players, their manager hinted darkly, reacted to their initial success with complacency rather than the hunger which characterises consistently successful sides.

Among those who apparently stopped doing what they had been doing was Danny Murphy, relegated to the bench only weeks after his omission from the England squad raised eyebrows. A salutary tale, lest Davis needed one, about the dangers of anyone assuming he has arrived.

Goal: Davis (69) 1-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Bouma; Milner, McCann, Davis, Barry; Baros (Moore, 90), Phillips. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Samuel, Hendrie, Bakke.

Charlton Athletic (4-5-1): Andersen; Young, El Karkouri, Hreidarsson, Powell (Perry, 83); Ambrose (Lisbie, h-t), Kishishev (Murphy, 67), Smertin, Holland, Thomas; Bent. Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk), Spector.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Booked: Aston Villa Baros, Milner; Charlton Athletic Kishishev, Powell, Andersen.

Man of the match: Davis.

Attendance: 30,023.

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