Aston Villa 2 Derby County 0: Villa fans sing fond farewell as Derby hopes fade fast

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The Independent Online

Villa's fans ended this match with a chorus of "Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio" in the direction of Derby's indefatigable supporters. And they didn't mean until next season. Nothing the visitors achieved in 90 minutes of diligent effort suggested that they will be able to avoid an immediate return to the Championship for 2008-09 as two goals in the space of four second-half minutes left their for-and-against record in Premiership away games looking like this: 0-19. Not hopeful.

Villa, in contrast, have now won five of their last six home League matches as they continue to profit from the dreadnought competence of Gareth Barry in central midfield and the willowy talents of Ashley Young on the left wing. On this occasion Young had a hand in the first goal and scored the second.

After this Derby derby, Villa will proceed to the most intense of derbies – away to Birmingham City on Sunday – full of confidence.

Villa's manager Martin O'Neill was a happier man after the match than he was at half-time, when he felt his men had lost momentum.

"We needed to try and get the ball to Ashley a lot more," he said. "At the moment his confidence is so high that he feels like something is going to happen every time he gets the ball. I probably feel the same. I think he's going to be really good."

After a first half where Villa's early optimism had faded away to a similar shade of grey as the sky overhead, the players went into the changing rooms to muted booing.

Without mustering any serious threats, Derby seemed to be heading for the nirvana of a goalless draw.

A booking for Darren Moore for a cumbersome challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor hinted at the strain in the Derby backline however, as had a yellow card shortly before the break for Andy Griffin after he had upended Young.

Twelve minutes into the second half, however, the visitors' concentration cracked.as their defence went missing following a free-kick on the left from Young. As the ball carried to the far post, Barry – who had drifted clear of his marker – was able to return it across goal for the exuberant figure of central defender Martin Laursen – also unmarked – to knock the ball over the line.

Within five minutes Villa's lead had doubled as Agbonlahor, regaining possession on the right, bore in on goal. Although his shot was struck straight at the Derby keeper, Nigel Reo-Coker scooped the rebound high to the far post, where Young reacted first to stab the ball into the net.

It was soon after this point that the inhabitants of the Holte End began to offer their guests a piece of explanatory advice: "That's why you're going down." Harsh, but probably true.

Not that Derby's manager Billy Davies is remotely likely to agree. "I'm still very, very confident that we will consolidate our position at the end of the season," he said. "We are not remotely detached and it is going to be a dogfight until the end of the season."

As for the heated debate between his keeper Steven Bywater and defender Dean Leacock at the final whistle, when both players squared angrily up to each other, Davies sees it as nothing more than a good sign.

"Why can't you have a debate between players?" he said. "Let's get at each other, let's get at each others' throats. Why not, when you think what's at stake.

"I said to the boys afterwards I'm sure the TV will show that tonight and they will be talking about the unhappy atmosphere at the club. But I can't fault the players' spirit."

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