Dunn's assault brings Villa crashing down

Aston Villa 1 - Birmingham City 2
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First Anfield, now Villa Park. Birmingham City do not win away very often but when they do they breach a fortress.

Like Liverpool, Aston Villa were unbeaten at home in 2004-05 but that did not spare them a first-half runaround that was as devastating as it was surprising.

If four or five goals had separated the sides at half-time, rather than the two Birmingham scored in the first 18 minutes, it would have accurately reflected the way Villa were sliced apart.

"The players let themselves down," their manager, David O'Leary, said. "Christmas came early for Birmingham. They had the impetus, the edge, and got the goals. I would like to know what happened to us."

While O'Leary contemplates an alarming dip in form, their neighbours are savouring the establishment of breathing space between them and the bottom three. They were terrific as an attacking force early-on in setting up only a third Premiership win of the campaign.

Steve Bruce boldly found a place in his midfield for Darren Carter, the Blues-supporting youngster whose penalty won the 2002 First Division play-off final but who has recently been on loan at Sunderland. With Mario Melchiot out and Muzzy Izzet undergoing exploratory knee surgery today, Oliver Tebily was another little-seen starter. But the tone was set by the time Villa had time to probe any weaknesses.

The ninth-minute opener, after Matthew Upson had already headed a clear opportunity over from Robbie Savage's corner, seriously undermined Villa.

Emile Heskey knocked the ball forward in the inside-right channel, where Clinton Morrison's half-hit shot through Mark Delaney's challenge bounced gently in front of the diving Thomas Sorensen and then into the net off his hands.

As blunders go, it did not rival Peter Enckleman's cataclysmic St Andrew's aberration two seasons ago. For a stunned Holte End, though, it was serious enough for the Dane to have the prefix Great removed for the time being.

Thanks to further shoddy defending, the lead was doubled with the game barely past the quarter hour. Jlloyd Samuel reacted slowly to Damien Johnson's acceleration on to a pass down the right by Morrison, and the cross was driven in first-time by David Dunn.

Chronic hamstring trouble has curbed Dunn's effectiveness since his arrival from Blackburn Rovers but, amazingly, he could have been celebrating a 12-minute hat-trick. Having been superbly denied by Sorensen as he closed in to shoot from an angle, he played a high-quality one-two with Heskey from which he dragged his shot wide.

Birmingham had scored only 12 times in 16 previous Premiership games and the main half-time task confronting their manager would have been to rein in his players. A Heskey shot against the foot of the far post from Dunn's stab forward underlined their massive supremacy at a time when their fuses were dangerously short.

Johnson had his name taken for provocatively hacking at the ball when it became wedged under the body of Gareth Barry - an action that sparked a 16-man shoving feud.

Dunn was withdrawn just before the hour for his own protection, having put the only blemish on an outstanding, high-octane contribution with a series of fouls that saw him yellow-carded. And the already booked Tebily was fortunate not to be sent off for a wild challenge on Samuel.

But, in terms of miscalculations, those indiscretions were nothing to the pre-weekend anti-Birmingham tirade from the Villa skipper, Olof Mellberg.

"I didn't do a team talk, I just let Mr Mellberg's comments float around the dressing-room," Bruce said. "After that performance, he would not get a game for Birmingham. He did it two seasons ago as well. Let's hope he keeps doing it." Villa, beaten three times and held twice in the five meetings of these clubs since hostilities were resumed, were much improved after the interval.

They mounted heavy pressure without being able to pull one back until Barry slammed in a consolation following Mellberg's long ball.

Goals: Morrison (9) 0-1, Dunn (18) 0-2; Barry (90) 1-2.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; De La Cruz, Delaney, Mellberg, Samuel; Solano, McCann, Barry, Davis; Angel, Cole. Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Berson, Whittingham, Ridgewell, Moore.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Tebily, Cunningham, Upson, Lazaridis (Clapham, 90); Johnson, Savage, Carter, Dunn (Gray, 59); Heskey, Morrison (Anderton, 83). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Yorke.

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).

Booked: Aston Villa: Mellberg, Barry. Birmingham: Dunn, Tebily, Carter, Johnson.

Man of the match: Dunn.

Attendance: 41,329.