Ginola steals show from panto villain

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The Independent Online

Anyone who thought David Ginola would sink gently out of sight after moving from George Graham's North London camp to John Gregory's unpredictable Birmingham pretenders could be in for a surprise this season. On yesterday's evidence, when he dazzled for an hour against an admittedly artless Bradford City team, the 33-year-old Frenchman still has more than a swagger and a famous hairstyle to offer.

Anyone who thought David Ginola would sink gently out of sight after moving from George Graham's North London camp to John Gregory's unpredictable Birmingham pretenders could be in for a surprise this season. On yesterday's evidence, when he dazzled for an hour against an admittedly artless Bradford City team, the 33-year-old Frenchman still has more than a swagger and a famous hairstyle to offer.

Making his full home debut as replacement for the luckless Luc Nilis, who may never play again following the horrific broken leg he suffered at Ipswich, the former Tottenham Hotspur winger won over the Villa Park crowd with a series of skilful runs, some intelligent prompting and occasional flashes of sumptuous trickery that were often beyond both the visitors' ability to stop him fairly and the referee's ability to see the offences.

When he departed, completely shattered and "treading water" as Gregory put it, to be replaced by Julian Joachim with 20 minutes remaining, it was to loud acknowledgement from the Holte End, who booed the substitute's arrival as keenly as they had every touch by their former favourite Benito Carbone.

The Italian, his white boots and white "Alice" band matching his all-white kit, was his usual peripheral self, mixing tricky footwork and threatening runs with melodramatic falls in the style of a pantomime villain.

"We are under no illusions about how tough it is going to be," acknowledged Bradford's manager, Chris Hutchings, after what was his team's third successive away defeat. "Obviously, it is going to be difficult." He talked, too, of the quality of Ginola and Paul Merson, and the chances his team missed. But, in winning at home for the first time since 9 April, Villa had merely shaken off some rust in readiness for the campaign to come as they rose to a healthy place in the top 10.

Ahead after only five minutes, when Gareth Southgate ran on to a pass from Lee Hendrie, following an uncleared corner, to power a rising drive beyond Matt Clarke, Villa could have won by five. Southgate's passion was obvious, his heart back at Villa Park and not aching for Stamford Bridge,Ginola glittered, Merson marauded and if only Dion Dublin had been sharper, it would have been a romp. Bradford, however, fought to the last.

"They were a very workmanlike side and put up a strong challenge," admitted Gregory. "We were not at our most fluent, but it will come. The balance was not quite right today, but I am pleased with everyone."

But Gregory saved the warmest praise for his estranged, transfer-seeking captain, Southgate. He said he was delighted with his return to form, his honest attitude and his application to the job in hand. "He wants to be associated with a winning team, winning trophies and the Champions' League, as we all do," he said. "But we have never doubted him and he showed his pride in himself today. I think all the negative thoughts are out of his mind now. But I don't know what will happen next because I don't know who was pulling the strings at Chelsea - Luca Vialli or someone else - when they were interested in him."

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