Martin O'Neill must be worth the Zizou treatment soon. A full-length movie, a study in managerial mannerisms, touchline pyrotechnics and leaping, clench-fist celebrations, following slow-motion close-ups of frustration and agony. Here in 93 minutes of swirling error-strewn attrition, O'Neill ran the full gamut before two goals in the final six minutes enabled Aston Villa to avoid the embarrassment of equalling the club's longest winless League run, of 12 games, set in 1986-87.
That the decisive goals came via a deflection off Gavin Mahon's knee and then a breakaway gallop completed by Gabriel Agbonlahor, after O'Neill had withdrawn both of his first-choice strikers, served only to stress how urgently Villa need to complete the transfer of Watford's 21-year-old forward Ashley Young today. A deal worth £9.5 million has been agreed and all that remains is for the player to complete a medical and sign his contract.
"Yes, he will cope alright," said Watford's manager Aidy Boothroyd last night. "He is a very strong kid, very disciplined; the ultimate professional. I think he will do very well and go on to have an excellent career. In fact, I think that if he develops as I expect him to, his new club will struggle to hang on to him."
Boothroyd left Young, who had previously rejected a chance to join West Ham, out of his side yesterday and he was as sorely missed by Watford as blatantly needed by Villa. Juan Pablo Angel, the club's previous record signing at £9m, and Milan Baros, both had afternoons to forget as Ben Foster produced a string of decent saves. "I think he will go on to become the world number one," said Boothroyd, in what sounded like another flight of fancy. Boothroyd was accurate when he said this game always looked destined to be decided by a scrappy goal and added, honestly, that his team had given their all and deserved better than a harsh defeat. "I didn't think it was a particularly good game," he said. "It was a reflection of the run we are on and the run that Villa have been on."
O'Neill, who was more than an hour late for the post-match news briefing, may usually be a garrulous man, but on this evidence his role should be non-speaking. "Yes, relief and euphoria," he said of his feelings. "But I always felt we were capable of scoring a goal."
The Villa manager included Phil Bardsley, his on-loan signing from Manchester United, at right-back for his debut in a team that showed three changes. The team began in sprightly fashion, but errors crept in and most of the game was scrappy and shapeless as Villa wasted a series of chances and Watford counter-attacked dangerously.
Baros, at his most infuriating, found several good positions, but always failed with his shot, though he did help set up Gareth Barry for a poorly-hit drive that the keeper pushed against a post. In three second-half minutes alone, Baros had further chances - one from a sublime pass by Patrik Berger - only to have one shot saved and another effort blocked by a saving tackle from Adrian Mariappa.
There were loud boos as he left the field, but they turned to cheers when Watford's luck ran out, a deep Steven Davis corner finding Gary Cahill, who fed McCann for the drive that ricocheted in off Mahon's kneecap. Agbonlahor, running on to a lofted McCann clearance, supplied the coup de grace.Reuse content