Villa survive the final cut

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The Independent Online
BY JON CULLEY

Norwich City 1

Aston Villa 1

In the end, the need for Villa to pull out of their nose-dive towards the Endsleigh League did not arise. It did not matter that the eighth- minute header from Steve Staunton which gave them the lead was cancelled out. With Crystal Palace beaten at Newcastle, Villa's place in the Premiership was safe and even defeat at Carrow Road would not have altered that.

It could have happened. Relegated Norwich, after a tame first half, said their farewell to the top flight looking the more able side. Jeremy Goss put them level after 56 minutes, volleying from 20 yards into the corner to Nigel Spink's left. Mark Bowen hit a post from 25 yards and Ian Crook's curler from 30 required an acrobatic save.

Villa should have made themselves safe by then. Staunton side-footed wide of an unguarded goal and Andy Marshall, Norwich's inexperienced goalkeeper, could only parry a shot by the substitute, Tommy Johnson.

Perhaps Villa's failure to rouse themselves was understandable. With news of Palace's unfolding demise, there was not much at stake. "Maybe the last 10 minutes were nervy when we knew Palace had got a couple back," Brian Little, a relieved manager, said. "But the tension had gone in the first half-hour."

It was a close call none the less, Villa finishing in the last safe position. But Little remained positive. "When I came, the directive was to stay in the Premiership," he said. "People forget that when we went to Leicester in November we were one point better off than them."

At the end, the Villa contingent celebrated noisily, but were shouted down by a demonstration against the Norwich chairman, Robert Chase. Gary Megson, meanwhile, is seeking a meeting with Chase to discover whether his five-match reign as caretaker-manager is likely to be extended.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Bradshaw, Newsome, Polston, Bowen; Sutch, Crook, Goss, Ullathorne; Akinbiyi (Sheron, 72) Ward. Substitutes not used: Adams, Rhodes (gk).

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Spink; Charles, Ehiogu, McGrath, Teale, Wright; Yorke, Staunton, Townsend; Fenton (King, 87), Saunders (Johnson, h-t). Substitute not used: Oakes (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).

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