The game was only the first of Rangers' forbidding string of remaining matches. Next Saturday it's Manchester United and next month Newcastle. "At least we have to play a few fellow stragglers as well but our confidence has been knocked back," Ray Wilkins said afterwards.
His hope that yesterday might bring one of the six wins out of nine he thought essential to stay in the Premiership was based less on confidence in his own team than that Villa's concession of three goals in eight minutes at Anfield the previous Sunday might have shaken them. Such optimism appeared ill-founded once Savo Milosevic had made a few threatening attempts to worm his way through a defence still lacking the experience of Alan McDonald.
Milosevic's habit of drawing defenders close before leaving them in frustrated clusters was emphasised in the 17th minute when Dwight Yorke neatly layed off an inviting short pass in the penalty area. Milosevic attracted the attention of three defenders but eluded them with a sharp scoring shot beyond Jurgen Sommer's reach.
Escaping alone a few minutes later, Milosevic again seemed to have Sommer at his mercy. The goalkeeper came out and appeared to pull him to the ground, though not according to the referee, who was not in a good position to see the incident.
There were a couple of chances for Rangers but even their most authoritative player, Trevor Sinclair, was wasteful and soon Villa's Gary Charles dropped a long shot, perhaps a misdirected centre, on to their crossbar and Andy Townsend's linking with the recovered Mark Draper ensured that both Milosevic and Yorke were handsomely supplied from midfield. The absence from the Villa side of Tommy Johnson, Steve Staunton and Ian Taylor was something they seemed well capable of ignoring.
Immediately after half-time Sinclair probed eagerly. Only an important tackle by Riccardo Scimeca a few yards in front of the Villa goal denied him, but the opportunity was enough to give Rangers new incentive. A centre by Sinclair appeared to fall comfortably for Paul McGrath but, uncharacteristically, he merely lifted the ball high above fellow defenders. It dropped to Daniele Dichio who struck in a comfortable equaliser.
Suddenly, Villa were defending hard but not convincingly. David Bardsley slammed a shot at Mark Bosnich and the pace was such that the goalkeeper was unable to grasp the ball, which bounced back for Kevin Gallen.
For a while Villa looked desperately troubled but Yorke's predatory instinct was to bring them back. In the 65th minute Charles played a short cross into the defenders strung across the Rangers penalty area. In spite of being outnumbered and in an unfavourable position, Yorke got up for a splendid overhead kick to equalise.
In spite of their largely ineffective first-half performance, Rangers had shown enough spirit to come away with a share of the points. Instead, they suffered a painful last quarter of an hour, mainly as victims of Yorke. He snatched the game away from them when left unmarked close in. Another header, this time following Mark Draper's cross, sunk into the net and then substitute Julian Joachim settled the game, and perhaps Rangers' fate, by pushing in a fourth from Alan Wright's ball, passed low into the area.Reuse content