Rsler exposes Villa's lack of composure

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa 1

Manchester City 1

VE Day - Villa for the Endsleigh, to quote a slogan currently popular with Birmingham supporters - remains a distinct possibility after a second successive night of unfulfilled hopes in the Second City.

Twenty-four hours earlier their neighbours had failed to force the victory that would have taken them into the First Division. This time it was Villa's turn to experience intense frustration as they scrambled to avoid dropping into the same section, though they could have no complaints about the result.

The same could not be said of City, who fell behind early on to a "Hand of God" goal by the Villa defender, Ugo Ehiogu. John Burridge, the visitors' 43-year-old former Villa goalkeeper, said later: "It was such a blatant handball that if they'd taken the ball down to the police station they'd have found his fingerprints on it."

While a point was an inadequate return for Brian Little's side, Brian Horton considered that Uwe Rsler's equaliser meant his team were now safe beyond reasonable doubt.

Villa, meanwhile, remain one place and two points above the highest-placed side in the relegation zone, Crystal Palace. The announcement of the Londoners' defeat at Southampton provoked a half-hearted roar as the crowd dispersed, but they still have a game in hand over Villa.

On Saturday, Liverpool come to Villa Park for a sell-out fixture, while Palace face a six-pointer at home to West Ham. It must encourage Little that Villa's main rivals then travel to Leeds, who need points for a Uefa Cup place, and that his own team end their programme against an increasingly doomed-looking Norwich. "Hopefully, we'll be safe by then," the Villa manager said. "If not, we'll find out how brave we are."

In their previous 10 matches, Villa's only goal had been unwittingly contributed by an Ipswich player. When they broke the sequence in the ninth minute, it was with an effort of similarly dubious merit. A short- corner routine between Steve Staunton and Dwight Yorke continued with the Irishman chipping to the near post, where Shaun Teale headed on. Ehiogu, leaping in front of Burridge with arms raised, became Villa's first scorer in 12hr 59min of football.

City were a vastly improved proposition in the second half. Peter Beagrie's appearance was an important factor, though it was Niall Quinn who made City's goal. Brushing off Teale with a hint of excessive zeal, the high- rise striker cut in from the right flank before crossing low for Rsler to con vert his 22nd goal of the season.

Both teams might have snatched victory. Beagrie's swerving, dipping drive drew a wonderfully agile save from Mark Bosnich, while Garry Flitcroft headed a Beagrie centre against the bar four minutes from time. Villa could point to a Staunton header from Yorke's corner that struck the far post before Ian Taylor's goalbound follow-up was deflected over by Ehiogu.

"A point is better than nothing," Little said. "Our commitment and will to win are fine, and Ugo's goal might be the break we've needed. It could be the best point we've got all season."

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles, Ehiogu, McGrath, Teale, Wright; Taylor, Townsend, Staunton; Yorke, Saunders. Substitutes not used: Fenton, Johnson, Spink (gk).

Manchester City (4-4-2): Burridge; Edghill, Curle, Kernaghan, Phelan (Beagrie, h-t); Summerbee, Flitcroft, Simpson, Walsh; Quinn, Rsler (Gaudino, 79). Substitute not used: Margetson (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

More reports,

Last night's results, page 39