Le Tissier 53
Aston Villa 4
Dublin 3, 56, 85, Merson 77
GOSH. Aston Villa's ever so English team are still up above those imported chaps in London and Manchester and, though it may sound Irish, it was their newcomer Dion Dublin, with a hat-trick, who yesterday at the Dell ensured they sustained their remarkable chain of success and concluded their best ever start to a season.
Villa were aware that if their unexpectedly prolonged bid for the championship was to extend much further, they really had to take advantage of a Southampton team still planted on the bottom but lifted to some extent in confidence by four games without defeat. Their next three home matches are against a Liverpool side full of players under threat of improving, or removing, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Much depends on Dublin, who was bought to make the Villa attack as reliable as their defence. He can play equally well at either end of the field, making a fee of over pounds 5m more logical than some suggested. There was no doubting the comment of the Villa manager, John Gregory, last night that Dublin had "added an enormous amount to our game".
Dublin introduced himself to a frail defence with a goal in three minutes. Steve Watson's centre from Lee Hendrie's enterprising pass seemed to reach Dublin too far out for a header on goal, but far from it. He was too powerful for Paul Jones in the Southampton goal.
The partnership of Dublin and Stan Collymore seems built less on understanding than individual determination to be the first to feed off the provisions of Paul Merson and Hendrie. Not that Southampton lacked the will to make a promising, immediate attempt to get themselves back into contention.
Matthew Le Tissier was frustrated more by curious offside decisions than by Villa's defence, although Gareth Southgate's positional sense and the timing of his tackles, especially one to block a sprinting Stuart Ripley, were outstanding. He saved Gareth Barry from embarrassment; the England Under-21 squad member's miscue could have been costly.
The possession Southampton enjoyed bore little relation to the serious chances they procured. Matthew Oakley did turn a clever pass from Le Tissier into a powerful drive that Michael Oakes held comfortably enough, and Le Tissier himself was frustrated as his shot, following an inviting pass from Scott Hiley, was blocked by Oakes' legs. But Villa's fewer attacks were more menacing.
In an attempt to add some substance to their strike force, Southampton brought on James Beattie for the second half. His pace helped a little but the cost was Le Tissier having to drop deeper. Yet that can often be where Le Tissier does his most mystifying tricks. So it was here. After 54 minutes Beattie headed on Francis Benali's centre and Le Tissier took control, weaving across the penalty area, losing Southgate and shooting in superbly.
Villa could easily have leaked another goal when Ugo Ehiogu headed Ripley's cross against his own bar, but they recovered their composure well. Less than three minutes after Le Tissier's goal Hendrie ran forcefully through midfield. Dublin, directly ahead, controlled his pass deftly and curled an outstanding shot inside the far post.
Dublin was almost frivolous with a 69th-minute chance for a hat-trick. Barry, always inventive, set him up but, comparatively sleepily, he stabbed at his shot. It merely delayed the end of Southampton's hopes.
Thirteen minutes from the finish Barry again began a rapid Villa breakaway. Collymore took it up, running powerfully deep into Southampton's half, and Merson continued almost in relay before driving in a fine shot from 18 yards.
Dublin then did get his third: Hendrie's corner was flicked on by Ehiogu and he hooked it in. Simplicity, English-style, and a broad hint to Glenn Hoddle.
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