Horlock makes Villa pay penalty

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The Independent Online

A calamitous, unforced error by the Aston Villa goalkeeper, David James, enabled Manchester City to book a fourth-round date with Wimbledon after 88 minutes of an attritional Worthington Cup tie at Villa Park last night.

A calamitous, unforced error by the Aston Villa goalkeeper, David James, enabled Manchester City to book a fourth-round date with Wimbledon after 88 minutes of an attritional Worthington Cup tie at Villa Park last night.

Villa's peroxide-topped goalkeeper barged Alf-Inge Haaland to the turf as he went to collect a Jeff Whitley cross after it had looped into the air off Gareth Barry. Kevin Horlock scored emphatically from the spot-kick, but City being City, the drama was not over.

With James charging upfield in a bid to redeem himself, Villa mounted a desperate final push. Darius Vassell claimed an equaliser, only for the referee, David Elleray, to rule that he had used a hand rather than his head. City were also thankful to Nicky Weaver for a marvellously agile save from Julian Joachim's header 10 minutes from time.

Joe Royle, the City manager, could afford to take a sanguine view of the late shenanigans afterwards. "I thought we were always in control," he said. "I felt we should have had a penalty earlier on but that's no condemnation of the referee, who gave the best performance I've seen this season."

His opposite number, John Gregory, is not an avowed fan of Mr Elleray but he had "no complaints" about the award, saying: "It looked blatant to me." Reflecting further on Villa's first home defeat he added: "The sides cancelled each other out and we didn't get going until the second half.

"But when you get clear chances, like Joachim and Vassell did, you've got to get the ball into the net. That's been a bit of a failing for us."

Royle added: "In the first half we completely stifled them. The game opened up in the second half and they had a couple of half-chances but we defended magnificently."

The evening's combustible conclusion was out of keeping with a tie that rarely looked likely to catch fire. Villa's Paul Merson wore a black armband in memory of George Armstrong, his former Arsenal coach who died yesterday, but looked the only player capable of lighting the claret and blue touchpaper.

Royle, who had changed his customary 4-4-2 formation to match Villa's system after the weekend's 5-0 defeat at Highbury, had no individual of comparable creativity. However, City settled better and made the best half-chances of the first half, most of the danger stemming from the left flank, where Paul Ritchie kept up a steady supply to Danny Tiatto, who in turn fed some teasing crosses.

A rugged challenge by Ritchie left Dion Dublin holding his back and he gave way to Vassell for the second half. The newcomer might have made an instant impact, only to fire wide under pressure.

Villa at last warmed to their task. From one Merson corner, Stone's low volley was diverted by Vassell towards the crossbar, where Weaver touched it over. The next saw Weaver swoop to keep out Gareth Southgate's header.

The home crowd, taunted for their silence with a chorus of "It's just like being in church" from the City end, finally found their voices. When Merson's angled drive from 25 yards - with his "wrong" foot - smacked against the bar, extra-time loomed. James had other ideas.

Aston Villa (3-4-1-2): James; Alpay, Southgate, Barry; Stone (Delaney, 69), Boateng, Taylor, Wright; Merson (Hendrie, 83); Joachim, Dublin (Vassell, h-t). Substitutes not used: Samuel, Enckelman (gk).

Manchester City (3-5-2): Weaver; Prior (Bishop, 79), Howey, Ritchie; Jeff Whitley, Haaland, Wiekens, Horlock, Tiatto (Kennedy, 71); Goater (Wright-Phillips, 90), Dickov. Substitutes not used: Jobson, Wright (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the Hill).

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