Johnson provides Villa's way past Wolves

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The Independent Online
JON CULLEY

Aston Villa 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

Brian Little, who won the League Cup for Aston Villa as a goalscorer 19 years ago, moved closer to matching the feat as their manager before a near 40,000 Villa Park crowd last night when Tommy Johnson's second- half strike was enough to take the club into the semi-finals for a ninth time.

Wolves could count themselves a shade unlucky. Although their primary intention was clearly to frustrate their Midlands neighbours by shackling their most potent attackers under tight man-marking, they were not without higher ambitions and gave the Premiership side more than an isolated scare. Indeed, during their best spell, their efforts were twice foiled by goal- line clearances.

Ultimately, the match became one of customary derby intensity, although there had been few early portents. Mark McGhee's tactics from the Wolves bench were to employ three man-markers, with Dean Richards policing Dwight Yorke, Eric Young assigned to follow Savo Milosevic and Mark Rankine detailed to keep tabs on Johnson in addition to his duties in midfield. There seemed enormous potential for disaster but largely the system worked. Milosevic squandered one opportunity with his head but mostly Villa were limited to pot-shots from long range.

On the half-hour Wolves awoke to the possibility of shifting the balance when Steve Bull stretched Mark Bosnich after exposing Paul McGrath's vulnerability with a twisting, turning run. It was the prelude to a period, at the start of the second half, in which Villa had to survive sustained pressure.

Alan Wright, the left-back, twice sprang to the rescue of Bosnich with headers off the line. On the second occasion, when the excellent Richards seemed sure to break the deadlock with a close-range header, Don Goodman's follow-up hit an upright. Moments earlier, Bosnich had been grateful for the alertness of Ugo Ehiogu when Rankine's deflected drive spilled from his clutches.

With tension mounting Villa surged back. On the hour Andy Townsend had the home crowd celebrating prematurely when his shot rippled the side- netting but the real thing was only minutes away as Wolves' defences were at last prised open by the speed of Villa's attacking.

Yorke and Gary Charles combined in a rapid link on the right, setting up Johnson to score from a range at which he could scarcely miss. Substitute Ian Taylor was denied by the last- gasp intervention of Richards in the closing seconds but a second goal would have flattered Villa.

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles, Southgate, McGrath, Ehiogu, Wright; Draper, Townsend, Johnson (Taylor, 81); Yorke, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Scimeca, Spink (gk).

Wolverhampton Wanderers (5 3 2): Stowell; Thompson (Law, 89), Richards, Venus (Foley, 82), Young, Pearce (Dennison, 70); Atkins, Rankine, Ferguson; Bull, Goodman.

Referee: M Bodenham (Looe).

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