Villa move up thanks to Johnson

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The Independent Online
Football

MIKE ROWBOTTOM

Southampton 0 Aston Villa 1

Aston Villa, who only escaped relegation from the Premiership in their final match of last season, moved up to third place last night as they secured their first win at the Dell since 1982.

They secured the points thanks to a first-half goal from Tommy Johnson, who is making the most of Andy Townsend's absence through injury. But most thanks were due to their keeper, Mark Bosnich, who made a series of telling saves.

Things looked relatively good for the home side after eight minutes. Relative, that was, to the same stage of their game at Old Trafford two days earlier, by which time they were 3-0 down. Not that they survived without threat.

Southampton's manager, Dave Merrington, had said after his side's 4-1 defeat by United that he had concentrated on relaxing his players beforehand. Judging by the way they reacted to Villa's statement of intent after two minutes, it seemed a similar pre-match approach had been recommended.

After Mark Draper had dispossessed Matt Le Tissier and surged past two challenges, his pull-back invited Savo Milosevic to score a sixth away goal of the season, but the shot cannoned away off Francis Benali.

Once they realised that Monday was not going to start as traumatically as Saturday, however, Southampton brightened up. And inevitably, it was the laconic figure of Le Tissier who provided the illumination. After nine minutes a one-two with Neil Shipperley took him into a clear shooting position - but the ball bobbled, Le Tissier wobbled, and the chance was wasted.

In the 25th minute Le Tissier attempted to return the compliment to the centre-forward, rendering Paul McGrath redundant on the edge of the box with a routine twist of his hips before curling over a far post cross which dropped perfectly for Shipperley. Bosnich did almost as well to hold the header.

But the light failed suddenly after 29 minutes when Aston Villa's midfielder Ian Taylor poked the ball through a flat line of defenders, some of whom appealed vainly for offside as Johnson ran clear to score his third goal in three games with a low, left-footed drive.

The half ended in high excitement. Two minutes from the break, Draper's brutal drive cleared the bar by less than a foot. Southampton responded with another far post header from Shipperley, once again blocked on the line by Bosnich. Several home players claimed the ball had gone over the line and television replays indicated that they had a case.

And in the last move before the teams went in, Dave Beasant distinguished himself after Johnson's driven cross was turned powerfully towards his own goal by Southampton's full-back Jason Dodd.

Villa continued to put Beasant under pressure after the break, but it was Bosnich of whom most was demanded in the 56th minute when Le Tissier fed Gordon Watson on the right. His cross appeared to have been volleyed home by Shipperley until the Villa keeper flew improbably across his goal to clutch the ball just inside the post.

The visitors regained the initiative after this shock, however, and Johnson nearly added a second goal, producing a cross-shot in the 66th minute which Beasant palmed away.

Southampton then presented Yorke with two even better chances. The first was dragged wide; the second, inadvertently set up by Tommy Widderington's mis-placed pass, saw the ball driven powerfully against the angle of bar and post.

Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Dodd, Hall, Monkou, Benali; Magilton (Bennett, 71), Le Tissier, Widdrington, Heaney; Shipperley, Watson. Substitutes not used: Maddison, Grobbelaar (gk).

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

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).

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