Villa shape up for Anglo-Italian Cup

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The Independent Online
Leeds United 1

Aston Villa 0

When these sides fought out a 0-0 draw on 2 January it was the prelude to a run of five wins in six games for Aston Villa which appeared to have banished their fear of relegation. They were even whispering the word Europe around Villa Park.

Four months on, they are still talking of Europe, although it is the dread prospect of the Anglo-Italian Cup which is presently exercising the minds and clutching the hearts of those in claret and blue.

In the same period Leeds have waxed ever stronger. The African moon which has risen over Elland Road has now shone down on a run of nine victories and only two Premiership defeats in their 18 matches this year. Europe is well and truly on their agenda. The threat of the Inter-Toto cup has given way to the promise of the Uefa Cup. They need to collect four points from home games against Norwich and Crystal Palace before meeting their closest rivals, Tottenham, on the final day of the season when avoidance of defeat would guarantee at least sixth place.

Villa now dream of the Inter-Toto. No one in their shirt has scored for 12 hours and their only victory in a run of 10 games, of which six have been defeats, came courtesy of an Ipswich own goal.

Their manager, Brian Little, could justifiably claim that the only thing wrong for them on Saturday was the result. He will also know that it was the only thing that mattered. John Lukic in the home goal made three good saves and until Carlton Palmer's right-footed shot screamed into the net in the first minute of injury time the Villa goal had not been directly threatened.

Three minutes before, however, the visitors' keeper, Mark Bosnich, had been dismissed for a second bookable offence, the barminess of first-half time-wasting compounded by the lunacy of a two-handed shove on Palmer.

The psychological balance had shifted, the Elland Road crowd inflamed and all of Villa's whole-hearted football evaporated as Tony Yeboah crossed for Palmer, galloping into the area, to dispatch at warp-factor four past the substitute, Nigel Spink. Leeds can boldly go into Europe, Villa fear they may be sent where no man ever wants to go.

Goal: Palmer (90) 1-0.

Leeds United (4-5-1): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Pemberton, Dorigo; Wallace, Palmer, McAllister, Speed, Deane; Yeboah. Substitutes not used: Worthington, Whelan, Beeney (gk).

Aston Villa (5-4-1): Bosnich; Wright, Teale, McGrath, Ehiogu, Charles; Staunton, Townsend (Fenton, 84) Taylor, Saunders; York (Spink, 88). Substitute not used: Johnson.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).