Aston Villa 2 Watford 0: O'Neill sees Young as key to brighter future

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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill spoke of Ashley Young's "enormous potential" rather then of his being the finished article, yet the endorsement of Watford's Adrian Boothroyd was more likely to excite Aston Villa supporters about their manager's most expensive buy.

The 21-year-old striker's £9.65m transfer was formalised yesterday - the fee will be confirmed after a medical - and Boothroyd's response was rather like that of Jock Stein when he was asked where Kenny Dalglish's best position was. "Och," he snapped, "just let him on the park."

Young, said Boothroyd, could play in four positions, use both feet and was lethal on set pieces. "Ashley is very quick and athletic. He has a wonderful work ethic and he's extremely disciplined - he'll do whatever you ask. He began wide on the right, but with his intelligence and technique he can play up front on his own. You've just got to get him on the pitch."

Villa betrayed a dearth of confidence before sealing their first win in 13 matches in the final five minutes. Gavin McCann's shot was then diverted into goal by Gavin Mahon and Gabby Agbonlahor ran clear to score a second.

The Villa manager sees the arrival of Young, who struck up a rapport with Agbonlahor when the latter was on loan to Watford last season, as an important step in his challenge for a place among the elite group of Premiership clubs. "The strong are getting really strong and it is lessening the chances of other clubs," he said. "In my playing days it was more of a level playing field. For instance, Nottingham Forest could sign Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton. Now you've got your top-four teams, with Tottenham trying to break into that and Everton having spent some money.

"There's nothing wrong with going for it, and if we get a bit of backing I think the Villa fans would want us to be doing that. I want to try to build a decent side here, one that is going to compete."

Some argue Young's fee is too high for a player with only three Premiership goals. O'Neill, who believes Young will provide "terrific value", suggested that the outlay had to be seen in context. "I've always been pretty careful, primarily because my clubs haven't had much. In 2000 when Mark Viduka left Celtic, I took Chris Sutton for £6m, which was a lot then. Now, with all the money coming into the Premiership, I'm paying a couple of million more. Players have gone for £27m and £30m. I haven't reached that stage yet."

If only Young could have played - perhaps 45 minutes for either side - to enliven an anaemic affair. Milan Baros missed a flurry of chances before being booed off and Ben Foster frustrated Villa with some fine saves. Meanwhile, Watford's Will Hoskins twice came tantalisingly close.

But Villa's luck turned and this win and O'Neill's declaration of ambition should provide the impetus for a top-half finish. Watford, who have lost seven times in the last 10 minutes, look beyond hope at the bottom. If Young is the player both managers believe him to be, even enhanced spending power may not compensate for their loss.

Goals: Mahon og (86) 1-0; Agbonlahor (90) 2-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Bardsley, Cahill, Mellberg, Bouma; Agbonlahor, Davis, McCann, Barry; Baros (Samuel, 79), Angel (Berger, 72). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Hughes, Ridgewell.

Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Mariappa, Shittu, Mackay, Stewart; Smith, Francis, Mahon, Bouazza (Powell, 70); Priskin (Henderson, 55), Hoskins (Ashikodi, 80). Substitutes not used: Lee (gk), Demerit.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Aston Villa Mellberg, Davis.

Man of the match: Foster.

Attendance: 35,892.