Yorke has sparkle of a jewel

Aston Villa 4 Queen's Park Rangers 2
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The Independent Online
At the end, Dwight Yorke's high fives and hugs contrasted starkly with the hunched shoulders and hangdog head of Trevor Sinclair, speaking volumes for their own performances and the prospects of their respective teams.

Yorke, perhaps inappropriately for a game sponsored by the Smoke-Free Birmingham campaign, was on fire. Two goals took him to within five of the 20-goal mark no Aston Villa player has reached in league games since Peter Withe 15 years ago. He also played a part in the other goals as the Coca-Cola Cup finalists warmed up positively for the fortnight that will make or break their season.

By comparison, Sinclair, who began the day by discovering that one newspaper had all but sold him to Manchester United, endured a damp squib of an afternoon. Higher things undoubtedly await, but in the short term he has only the fag end of Queen's Park Rangers' increasingly forlorn fight against relegation to look forward to.

Tabloid talk of Sinclair fetching pounds 5m highlights what an asset Villa have in Yorke. At 24, he is just a year older than the Rangers striker, and outscores him by 22 goals to four in all matches this season. His is no overnight success story, however, rather a triumph of the kind of resilience Sinclair may not yet have developed.

Yorke's early football education came among the slums of Tobago, a proverbial school of hard knocks, whereas Sinclair graduated from the FA National School in Shropshire. He was brought to Villa by Graham Taylor, and shone intermittently during Ron Atkinson's reign, yet only under the quietly encouraging wing of Brian Little has he really come out smoking.

"He's a jewel, and I wouldn't swap him for anyone," said the Villa manager, no mean forward himself at a similar age. Because of a crowded penalty area, Little did not see the goal with which Yorke equalised midway through the second half, in which case, his overhead kick must have been a rare televisual treat on Saturday night.

Little was less enamoured of the slack defending which has crept into Villa's once-watertight game. After they led through a deftly struck goal by Savo Milosevic, unforced errors let Daniele Dichio (dubbed "the Italian Stallion" by an over-heated radio hack from London) and Kevin Gallen give Rangers a glimpse of salvation.

In between those goals, Dichio, who had twice set up opportunities wasted by Sinclair, sent a free header wide. It proved an expensive miss, for Ray Wilkins' side were even sloppier at the back. They had chances to clear before Yorke's blur of brilliance, and were in disarray as Villa burned them off thereafter.

Little's main concern will now be the condition of Gareth Southgate, who damaged ankle ligaments and is out of Wednesday's FA Cup quarter-final at Nottingham Forest. Southgate, whose absence in defence was keenly felt while he provided a midfield counterpoint to the ebullience of Yorke and Milosevic, may be struggling to face Leeds at Wembley on 24 March.

For Rangers, for whom Wilkins had set a survival target of six wins in nine games, the future holds more likelihood of trips to Crewe and Chesterfield than to the Twin Towers. Nevertheless, the official line on Sinclair, who personified the "sapped confidence" of which their manager spoke, is that he is staying.

When he does go, presumably in the summer, Rangers must use the proceeds better than the Les Ferdinand millions or risk being cut adrift from the Premiership and its perks. Wilkins' humour already has a distinct gallows flavour. "We must show championship form from now on," he said. "Mind you, we've got a nice easy one next week - Manchester United at home."

Goals: Milosevic (18) 1-0; Dichio (50) 1-1; Gallen (60) 1-2; Yorke (65) 2-2; Yorke (80) 3-2; Yates og (82) 4-2.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, McGrath, Scimeca; Charles, Southgate (Joachim, 57), Draper, Townsend (Farrelly, 88), Wright; Yorke, Milosevic. Substitute not used: Oakes (gk).

Queen's Park Rangers (4-3-3): Sommer; Bardsley, Ready, Yates, Brevett; Barker, Quashie (Goodridge, 81), Holloway; Gallen, Sinclair, Dichio. Substitutes not used: Brazier, Plummer.

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Man of the match: Yorke.

Attendance: 28,221.

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