Laursen's return brings relief to Villa malcontents

Aston Villa 2 - Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Football

On a day when the octogenarian Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis once again came under attack from disgruntled home supporters, it was two first-time goal-scorers who gave the Villa Park faithful three points and hope that the long-promised better times ahead may finally be on the horizon. More importantly they relieved the mounting pressure on their manager David O'Leary.

On a day when the octogenarian Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis once again came under attack from disgruntled home supporters, it was two first-time goal-scorers who gave the Villa Park faithful three points and hope that the long-promised better times ahead may finally be on the horizon. More importantly they relieved the mounting pressure on their manager David O'Leary.

Second-half strikes from the Dane Martin Laursen and homegrown talent Luke Moore gave Villa the win and, in the process, took some of the sting out of a home crowd who had started the day by staging an anti-Ellis protest and ended the first half by booing their side from the field. A markedly sharper showing in the second period left them somewhat placated.

But the fairytale stories of Laursen and Moore lit up a game which otherwise would have rapidly been forgotten. Laursen was making his first appearance in six months due to injury while Moore had been consigned to the bench for his poor showing as Villa lost at home to Everton a week previously. Both took advantage of a terrible Middlesbrough showing to the delight of O'Leary.

"We came into the game with massive expectation on us," said O'Leary. "I thought it would be a tight game, but we showed a great determination and bite. On top of that Luke [Moore] has got a goal today and I hope that will do him good. But having Martin [Laursen] back is very important for us. We brought him in for this season and lost him after two games. We thought he might be out for longer and it was great to have him back."

The first half was so awful that supporters inside the ground were left to reflect that they would have been better served if they had, like a large number of their counterparts, missed much of it stuck in traffic jams on the M6. The second half was not much better until the final half-hour, influenced strongly by the arrival of the pacey and committed Moore in place of Darius Vassell, who is clearly still far away from full fitness.

It was a Nolberto Solano corner that led to Villa's opener on 64 minutes. The in-swinging ball eluded the Middlesbrough goalkeeper Carlo Nash and Laursen arrived at the far post to stab home. Middlesbrough failed to respond and it was little surprise when Villa added a second with 11 minutes to go. Solano fired in a free-kick from 20 yards that Nash could only beat out and Moore was on hand to drill home from 10 yards.

With a Uefa Cup tie awaiting on Thursday, Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, admitted that such a poor performance was a serious worry heading into Europe.

"I just can't explain that today," said McClaren. "It's the sort of performance you get once or twice a season and it will affect my thinking for Europe. Tired legs and injuries are no excuse - you have to show more than that. Villa showed more passion and urgency and they deserved to win."

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