If David O'Leary had convinced Doug Ellis to fund a modest deal for Paul Robinson three summers ago, he and Gareth Barry might have been Aston Villa colleagues today. Very soon, assuming that Steve McClaren stands by the Tottenham goalkeeper and judges the Villa captain on performances rather than preconceptions, they should become international team-mates.
Robinson's England place is surely not in doubt. What happened in Croatia was a freak, not a mistake, and he kicked as confidently as ever here in a typically assured display. It was going to take a special goal to beat him, and by providing it, Barry underlined the case for a recall by his country while ensuring that Villa are the last unbeaten team in the Premiership.
By the time Martin O'Neill succeeded O'Leary in July, Barry was so disillusioned with what he saw as a lack of ambition that he considered pressing for a transfer. The new manager persuaded him to stay and, at left-back, he has rediscovered the zest that made him such a stunning prospect when John Gregory sprung him on an unsuspecting world as a 17-year-old in 1998.
Villa started brightly but events took a strange turn as the contest entered its final quarter of an hour. Juan Pablo Angel fluffed a penalty and headed an own goal inside a 90-second spell which he later termed "so crazy it was almost funny".
Barry had other ideas. Embarking on a slalom through Tottenham's midfield, he curled a shot beyond Robinson with his right foot. O'Neill called the goal "out of this world", noting its importance in "stoking up" Villa's first 40,000-plus gathering of the season. The cacophony prompted mounting pressure on a side depleted by Calum Davenport's dismissal following the incident that led to the penalty.
That was when Robinson came into his own. Martin Jol, the Tottenham manager, claimed his aura affected the Colombian. "Paul made him nervous because he knew exactly what he was going to do," Jol said. "He always prepares 100 per cent and told me before the game that he knew what he'd done in the past and what he would do."
Robinson spent the evening celebrating - it was his 27th birthday yesterday - at a party attended by O'Leary, who gave him his break at Leeds. Had the former Villa manager been present at the game, he could have been excused a wry smile as the crowd cheered them off. Late in his own reign, Villa's inability to beat 10 men would have fuelled dissent, but then one seldom saw O'Leary's side maximise their capabilities as do O'Neill's.
Anything appears possible for Villa under the Northern Irishman, even if the squad still lacks depth. Yet when half a dozen Premiership rivals are in Europe this week, Villa can prepare, undistracted, for Fulham's visit next Saturday.
Tottenham, for instance, go to Turkey to face Besiktas in the Uefa Cup on Thursday. They are finally shaking off the hangover after Arsenal passed them at the post last season to take the last Champions' League place. However, with Michael Dawson and Davenport joining Ledley King on the injured list, Robinson may need to be on top form again in Istanbul.
Goals: Angel og. (76) 0-1; Barry (81) 1-1.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Taylor; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Barry; Agbonlahor, McCann, Petrov, Davis (Berger, 76); Baros (Agathe, 60), Angel. Substitutes not used: Olejnik (gk), Laursen, Bouma.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson (Stalteri, 52), Davenport, Assou-Ekotto; Ghaly (Lennon, 61), Jenas, Zokora, Murphy; Berbatov (Davids, 77), Defoe. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Keane.
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire).
Booked: Tottenham Ghaly. Sent off: Tottenham Davenport.
Man of the match: Petrov.
Attendance: 42,551.Reuse content