Hitzlsperger rewards dominance of Villa

Aston Villa 1 Leicester City 0
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The Independent Football

Villa have already reached the conclusion that only a cup run offers them a chance of silverware this season and in the hope of reaching the last 16 of a competition they twice won in the 1990s fielded a full-strength side against what was almost Leicester's reserves.

In the event, however, it took them 75 minutes to break down a resolute Leicester defence and they were grateful to the left foot of the substitute Thomas Hitzlsperger for firing them into the fourth-round Carling Cup draw.

True to his word, Leicester's manager, Micky Adams, made the wholesale changes he had threatened after last Saturday's extraordinary collapse at Wolves, when a 3-0 half-time lead turned into a 4-3 defeat that sent Leicester to the bottom of the Premiership. Only the striker Paul Dickov survived, although the absence of the goalkeeper Ian Walker was the result of illness.

Adams was rewarded with a performance that was at least brimming with commitment, if it rarely threatened a goal. "If we had shown that level of work-rate and determination at Wolves we would not have had a problem," Adams said.

Danny Coyne, the former Grimsby goalkeeper who stood in for Walker, soon found himself to be the busiest visiting player. Coyne was required to make a string of early saves as Juan Pablo Angel and Darius Vassell tried to capitalise on the creativity of Villa's midfield. David O'Leary, the Villa manager, was particularly keen to see Vassell deliver goals, given that the England forward has not managed one at Villa Park since New Year's Day.

All the signs were that he would not have a better chance than this to put matters right. Such was Villa's dominance it took Leicester almost half an hour to record their first attempt on goal, a shot by Paul Brooker, the former Brighton winger, which Thomas Sorensen smothered, diving to his right.

Heavy rain made for an increasingly greasy surface, but Vassell could not use that excuse when he squandered a glorious chance 10 minutes into the second half, poor control letting him down after the absence of an offside flag left him with only Coyne to beat.

Villa's scoring record in the Premiership is poor - only eight goals in 10 matches - but their supporters' patience was rewarded after 75 minutes when Hitzlsperger, sent on in place of a limping Vassell, found himself with the rare luxury of space in a crowded Leicester half and beat Coyne with a vicious, swerving shot from 25 yards.

"It was a great strike and obviously I'm delighted to be through, but the problem we have scoring goals is a worry to me," O'Leary commented.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Delaney, Mellberg (Dublin, 84), Johnsen, Samuel; De la Cruz (Allback, 57), McCann, Barry, Whittingham; Angel, Vassell (Hitzlsperger, 65). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Ridgewell.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Coyne; Impey, Howey, Sinclair, Stewart; Brooker (Scowcroft, 81), Nalis, McKinlay (Izzet, 81), Hignett (Gillespie, 65); Deane, Dickov. Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Priet.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

* The Italian striker Massimo Maccarone scored his first goal of the season as Middlesbrough reached the Carling Cup fourth round with a 2-1 win at Wigan last night.

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