Cole and Vassell clarify Villa's riches

Aston Villa 2 - Southampton 0
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Aston Villa and Southampton may want James Beattie as badly as each other but their respective needs appear much more diverse. The evidence of this total mis-match suggests that Paul Sturrock simply cannot do without a player who might be worried about breaking into David O'Leary's already star-studded strike force, if the transfer goes through.

Aston Villa and Southampton may want James Beattie as badly as each other but their respective needs appear much more diverse. The evidence of this total mis-match suggests that Paul Sturrock simply cannot do without a player who might be worried about breaking into David O'Leary's already star-studded strike force, if the transfer goes through.

Even in the absence of last season's revelation, Juan Pablo Angel, through a knee injury, Villa were able to send Darius Vassell and Carlton Cole out to score the goals that represented the bare minimum of their supremacy.

Although Marcus Allback's days seem numbered, such attacking riches are beyond the wildest dreams of Sturrock, for whom Beattie's return from a thigh injury - hopefully in the next fortnight - would seem paramount.

The Scot, who was the victim of a withering attack in sections of the media last week, will be counting off the days until the closure of the transfer window, and praying O'Leary sticks to his insistence that he will not bid beyond £6m.

Southampton are digging in their heels for £8m, although it would not take many more performances like this to have them questioning the commitment of the rest of their first team squad.

Despite 26 years' unbroken membership of the top flight, Southampton fans are used to opening day letdowns - after only one first-day win since 1988 - but the sort of abject resistance that rendered them fortunate to be only two goals down at the interval is an unfamiliar sight.

"We've had a very poor 45 minutes and everyone is putting two and two together and making five," Sturrock said after rumours of unrest in his camp have persisted all week. "Somebody out there thinks unsettling Southampton can benefit them," he added intriguingly.

Sights, meanwhile, are set higher at Villa Park, where last season's sixth place might be just the start. O'Leary believes that Cole can do what another on-loan Chelsea striker, Mikael Forssell, is doing amid the healthy renaissance for football in the "second city".

"It took a lot of persuading and detective work to get him here," the manager said. "He will have games where he does nothing and some where he will be spectacular.

"I don't think this game has any bearing on our chances of signing Beattie but we need more players. You hear a lot about youngsters and Chelsea have very good ones. One of them is across the road [Forssell] and Carlton is a real talent too."

Cole was highly mobile in stretching a desperate defence and struck clinically after Vassell had drawn first blood in front of the watching England assistant coach, Tord Grip. Vassell will no longer need to be quite so haunted about his penalty shoot-out miss against Portugal after being named in the squad for Wednesday's friendly against Ukraine. The call-up comes after he scored his first Premiership goal of the season - some four and a half months earlier than last season.

Villa could have had several more had it not been for the excellence of Antti Niemi, whose second-half shove of David Prutton was the most dramatic of two or three instances of bickering between Southampton team-mates.

Villa's season is up and running; the Saints' campaign cannot afford another false start.

Goals: Vassell (12) 1-0; Cole (34) 2-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Simonsen; Delaney, Mellberg, Laursen, Samuel; Hendrie (Whittingham, 22; De La Cruz, 76), McCann, Hitzlsperger, Barry; Cole, Vassell (Moore, 85). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Berson.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi; Dodd, Lundekvam, Higginbotham, Le Saux; Fernandes, Prutton, Folly (Delap, h-t), Nilsson (A Svensson, h-t); Phillips, Ormerod (Crouch, 69). Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Kenton.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Man of the match: Cole.

Attendance: 36,690.

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