Joachim double destroys Derby

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The Independent Online

Inspired by the endeavour of Paul Merson and the composure of Gareth Southgate, Aston Villa maintained their stealthy climb to a lofty perch with this comprehensive defeat of a bold, if disorganised, Derby at Villa Park.

Inspired by the endeavour of Paul Merson and the composure of Gareth Southgate, Aston Villa maintained their stealthy climb to a lofty perch with this comprehensive defeat of a bold, if disorganised, Derby at Villa Park.

Two goals from Julian Joachim, an early substitute for the injured David Ginola, and one apiece from Paul Merson, with his 100th League goal, and Alan Wright ensured that a goal on his Premiership debut from young defender Chris Riggott was of little more than academic value to Jim Smith's team.

All afternoon, they had toiled in vain to shake off their record as the only team in the land without a League victory. On this showing, Villa have the squad to mount a challenge for a European place while Derby, despite their ability to score goals and mount comebacks, look like entertainers at the edge of an abyss.

As John Gregory enjoyed pointing out afterwards, Villa have lost only once in seven outings this season, at Anfield, where, he said, they had outplayed Liverpool.

It was notable, too, that he mentioned Joachim, a player who had fallen out with the manager in the summer, not only for his goals, but for his attitude as he ran selflessly for the team. "He needs to do that to win back the supporters," said Gregory.

Beforehand, the Villa manager had asked his team to show a more ruthless streak and, after a slow start, they certainly did. Ginola dazzled for only four minutes before suffering a thigh strain which forced the introduction of Joachim's pace after 18. Ten minutes later, latching on to a Merson pass, he ran clear to guide in the opening goal shortly after a Bjorn Bragstad header at the other end had rebounded off David James's bar.

Merson scored the second after 37 minutes. Its statistical significance will keep its memory alive as much as its nature. "It was a fluke," said Gregory, grinning. "But he deserved one. He works like that all week and it is now showing on Saturdays."

The goal came when Merson, receiving from Lee Hendrie, hit a speculative 30-yard cross from the right wing off the outside of his right boot. Mart Poom stood, Stefan Schnoor shrugged and the ball arced by to nestle untouched inside the far post.

Smith made three substitutions at the interval, introducing Georgi Kinkladze among them, and switched from 4-4-2 to 3-4-3. It was more positive, but Southgate, cool and decisive, and James, agile and anticipatory, showed why they are in the England squad when Villa had to defend before Wright, collecting an over-hit Joachim cross, thundered in Villa's third from 25 yards.

It should have been over, but Riggott's header from a Craig Burley corner revived Derby briefly before Joachim, galloping clear on the left, slid home Villa's fourth with an individual flourish that spared any serious late alarm, although James excelled with a diving save from Danny Higginbotham in the dying seconds.

It was proof, if needed, that this Villa team are strong from back to front.

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