Aston Villa 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
Even by current Premiership standards, Aston Villa's Serbo-Tobagan attacking partnership is an exotic one. It reaped a handsome dividend last night, Savo Milosevic's clever curling cross being met by Dwight Yorke's glancing header into the Bolton net with 15 minutes remaining at Villa Park.
Villa's victory cemented their place among the early front- runners. Those with an eye for omens will have spotted that when they last won three of the first four fixtures, 14 years ago, they went on to take the title.
The turnover in personnel under Brian Little has been so drastic that only three of the Villa side beaten in an FA Cup tie at Bolton 18 months ago were on view. Of the latest recruits, who have taken the manager's spending to pounds 17m, Mark Draper and Gareth Southgate, made assured starts. Milosevic, despite creating the winner, looked what he is: a striker in need of a goal.
Fabian De Freitas, more modestly priced but playing a similar role for Bolton, had scored in the defeat of Blackburn, and his early contribution reflected growing self-belief.
In only the sixth minute, after Ugo Ehiogu bought Alan Thompson's dummy, Mark Bosnich had to make a brave smothering save to deny De Freitas. Soon the Dutchman was outpacing Ehiogu - no mean feat - only to find no one up in support of his low cross.
Draper's passing ability almost conjured a breakthrough for Villa midway through the first half. His long, diagonal ball from the left found Gary Charles charging up on the blind side of Gudni Bergsson, but the wing- back's header went straight to Keith Branagan in the Bolton goal. Branagan was stretched again seconds before half-time, when he dived to keep out a volley by Yorke following Paul McGrath's exquisite chipped pass.
Unfortunately for Villa, on two occasions when they picked out a forward's head, the chances fell to Yorke rather than the taller Milosevic. For all Draper's wiles, Bolton matched them blow for blow until the final 20 minutes, moving the ball around neatly if not with any great threat.
Villa's frustration was finally relieved when Milosevic, revealing hitherto disguised skill, shimmied past two defenders and at last linked effectively with Yorke. But Little's pounds 3.5m man has still to convince the partisans, and Villa should guard against reading too much into historical coincidence.
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, McGrath, Southgate; Charles, Taylor, Draper, Townsend, Wright; Milosevic, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Johnson, Fenton, Spink (gk).
Bolton Wanderers (3-5-2): Branagan; Fairclough, Stubbs, Bergsson; Green (Lee, 86), McAteer, Patterson, Thompson, Phillips; De Freitas, McGinlay (Sneekes, 79). Substitute not used: Davison (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).Reuse content