Dublin strike sees off Southampton and quietens dissenters

Aston Villa 1 Southampton 0
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The Independent Football

Aston Villa's impatient supporters are renowned for their efforts to oust the club's chairman, Doug Ellis. Fans have long blamed the 79-year-old for everything wrong at the club, but all was forgotten when Dion Dublin struck the only goal of this game to secure a first League win in seven games.

More than 2,000 supporters had braved the wet, miserable conditions to march in protest against the chairman before the Villa Park fixture, but Ellis was unfazed as he greeted members in the director's box.

David O'Leary's Villa players also refused to let the off-the-field protests, in which fans also raised "Ellis Out" placards at the start of the game, detract from their job in hand, and it was the veteran Dublin, a rock at the heart of defence rather than in his familiar role in attack, who lifted the gloom.

"The fans expect commitment and they expect to see their £25 worth of sweat and I think we've got to show a little bit more of that," said Dublin, who has made a smooth transition from forward to centre-back. "The chairman's not the centre forward paid to score a goal, the chairman is in the stands. It's the players who go over the white line on to the pitch and we've got to hold our hands up and say, 'It's down to us'."

Dublin's role of leading Villa's front line has been limited since the arrival of Juan Pablo Angel, but the Colombian was denied a goal on this occasion by the brilliance of the Southampton goalkeeper, Antti Niemi, who saved three stinging shots.

Niemi was Southampton's shining light in another substandard performance from Gordon Strachan's side, but he could do nothing to repel Dion Dublin's delightful overhead kick which squirmed through a ruck past him.

Villa were the more potent side and Strachan claimed Southampton were undone in the opening period, describing it "as bad a 45 minutes as I can remember". He was being kind to his players, and O'Leary's too.

"It was two teams playing badly but Aston Villa had 20 minutes before half-time where they increased what they had in the locker and we couldn't handle it," Strachan said.

While Villa fans were focusing their attention on forcing Ellis out of the door, Strachan, the man across the aisle in the director's box during the dismal first-half, is in a very different position. He got the best out of Southampton last year, but is struggling to repeat the feats.

Niemi, however, is convinced his manager will stay, rather than head to Leeds United. "We all know that he's not someone who will comment on rumours and he didn't do that this time either," the Finn said. "But I always knew that he isn't going to go."

Goal: Dublin (45) 1-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen 6; De La Cruz 6, Mellberg 6, Dublin 8, Samuel 8; Hendrie 5 (S Moore 6, 66), G McCann 7, Whittingham 6 (Hitzlsperger, 85), Barry 6; Vassell 6, Angel 7 (Allback 6, 76). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Johnsen.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi 8; Telfer 6, M Svensson 6, Lundekvam 6, Higginbotham 7; A Svensson 6 (Marsden 6, 46), Prutton 6, N McCann 5 (Pahars 6, 71), Delap 6 (Dodd 6, 46); Phillips 6, Beattie 6. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Delgado.

Referee: M Messias (South Yorkshire) 6.

Booked: Southampton: Marsden.

Man of the match: Dublin.

Attendance: 31,285.