Aston Villa delighted their followers, and doubtless those of Newcastle, when Dwight Yorke's fine individual goal late in an absorbing game maintained his team's remarkable ascendancy over Tottenham yesterday.
Villa, whose win lifted them to fifth in the Premiership, have now won nine and drawn five of their last 14 fixtures against Spurs dating back to 1990. Victory would have put the London side in second place for the first time since shortly before David Pleat's demise in 1987, but they could have few complaints.
Paul McGrath had scored for both teams inside a four-minute spell midway through an entertainingly, open first half. A draw, which would have been of little use to either club in their quest to close the gap on the leaders, looked the likeliest outcome after the interval as both teams worked harder to restrict their opponents. Yorke, exhilaratingly, had other ideas.
Spurs, defending the Division's best away record, began as if determined to make nonsense of Villa's claim to be their bogy side. Arguably their clearest chance of the entire afternoon arrived in only the second minute, when Ronny Rosenthal's cross cleared Gareth Southgate. Chris Armstrong, unmarked, headed inexcusably wide.
After a tentative start, Villa began switching the ball around purposefully. Yorke, who was absent last week playing for Trinidad and Tobago in the United States, linked cleverly with Tommy Johnson, whose shot was well saved by Ian Walker. The goalkeeper then saved athletically from Ugo Ehiogu's booming volley, but was helpless as Villa took a 23rd-minute lead.
Aerial pressure culminated in a bicycle kick by Yorke. The ball ricocheted off Stuart Nethercott to the lurking McGrath, who found the net for the first time since April 1993 with an instinctive angled drive from 12 yards.
For the Irishman to score with anything but his head was rare enough. Before Villa could savour the novelty value he repeated the feat. Darren Caskey's corner had the Premiership's meanest defence in a mild panic, Alan Wright clearing a Nethercott header that was passing wide. Ruel Fox's return shot from 18 yards took a significant deflection off McGrath's heel, leaving Mark Bosnich wrong-footed and beaten for the first time this year.
Villa's strongest spell came in the 10 minutes before half-time. Savo Milosevic could have collected a second hat-trick in successive home matches, only to miss one glaring opportunity, crash another into the Holte End and then fail to connect with a free header. Brian Little, who paid pounds 3.5m for the Serbian, must be wondering if his team might have been pressing for the title had the money been better spent.
Little and his opposite number, Gerry Francis, had obviously found the first half too open for their liking, for chances were at a premium thereafter. Teddy Sheringham - who, like Gary Lineker before him, has never scored at Villa - had to wait until 11 minutes from time to test Bosnich, who was equal to his volley. Seconds later, Villa had the points in the bag.
There seemed no imminent danger when Yorke took possession 30 yards out. The sight of Colin Calderwood backing off was all the encouragement the striker needed. Skipping round Justin Edinburgh, who then seemed afraid to risk conceding a penalty, Yorke advanced almost to the angle of the six-yard box before dispatching a diagonal drive into the far corner of Walker's net.Reuse content