Everton 0 Aston Villa 1: Sutton lifts O'Neill's revivalist mission

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The Independent Football

Things would not have had to have worked out very differently for Chris Sutton to be spending his time tending the pot-bellied pigs and other assorted animals in his menagerie. As it is, surgery has eased the groin problem that ruined his spell at Birmingham City, and, on Saturday, he got the goal that lifted Aston Villa into the Champions' League qualifying places.

"I did consider retirement," he admitted. "I'd had problems with my adductor and missed a lot of games. I wasn't doing much training and wasn't doing myself any favours really.

"I've got a few animals and I wasn't sure what I'd do at one stage. But I had the opportunity here and I'm back playing again.

"I didn't want to waste anyone's time - I wanted to do well," he added. "I'm still hungry for that. I know I've still got a hell of a lot to do in terms of fitness, but I want to do well for the team and myself."

Sutton has even promised to retire if the injury recurs, according to his manager, Martin O'Neill. For the moment, though, the operation looks to have been a success. "It's not made me a yard quicker, but it has made me feel freer in that area," he revealed.

Not that Sutton needed to be particularly loose to score his goal on Saturday, left in yards of space to glance in a right-wing cross from Isaiah Osbourne. The defending was so pitiful that the Everton manager, David Moyes, seemed unable to articulate his disappointment, his eyes glazing over as he shook his head and muttered: "bad goal, bad goal".

The goal was only part of it. For Everton, this was a bad all-round performance, characterised, as Moyes said, by "flatness" and a "lack of tempo". The only positives were the composed performance of Joleon Lescott at left-back, and the fact that Tim Cahill has suffered only bruising rather than the broken leg that seemed likely as he was being carried off after being clattered by his team-mate Lee Carsley. Aside from two one-on-ones spurned by Andrew Johnson, who Moyes admitted has been unsettled by accusations of diving, Everton barely threatened.

Villa, meanwhile, continue to make the most of limited resources. Gavin McCann and Osbourne were indefatigable in midfield, while the two centre-backs, Liam Ridgewell and Gary Cahill, after an uncertain start, were exceptional.

"No one is getting carried away with what we've done," Sutton said. "We've got an away win under our belt now, and we have a lot of good youngsters, which bodes well for the future."

For all their promise, though, this remains an essentially ordinary squad, and that O'Neill has lifted them so high is remarkable. He admitted Champions' League qualification was "an impossible dream", but for now Villa are living it.

Goal: Sutton (42) 0-1

Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Stubbs, Lescott; Arteta, Davies, Carsley, T Cahill (Beattie, 22), Osman (Anichebe 68); Johnson. Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Weir, Hughes.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Mellberg, Ridgewell, G Cahill, Bouma; Agbonlahor, Osbourne, McCann, Petrov; Sutton (Davis, 90), Angel (Agathe, 76). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Baros, Berger.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire)

Booked: Everton Stubbs, Carsley; Aston Villa McCann, Angel, Mellberg.

Man of the match: McCann.

Attendance: 36,376.