Southampton 1:4 Aston Villa (14 Nov)
THESE are early days in which to assess the potential for Dion Dublin and Stan Collymore developing into a formidable
striking partnership. For the moment, Stan is no longer the man, his natural flamboyance hidden in the shadows.

Irrepressibly, Dublin scored a hat-trick against Southampton as Aston Villa extended their unbeaten start to a League
season to 12 matches, overtaking the previous club record that had stood since 1932. As he joins up with England today
Dublin can relax in the security of five goals since his £5.75m move along the M6 from Coventry City.
His finishing was sharp and incisive, but without wishing to appear churlish there was little evidence of a chemistry with
the forward he will play alongside as Villa push for the Premiership title.

The bonding between Collymore and Dublin, if it is going to happen, may take a while. Dublin worked ceaselessly, coolly
taking three of the four chances that fell in his path, but when he needed support, Collymore was often out of the picture.

All season John Gregory, the Villa manager, has been urging Collymore to get into the box and mix it with the opposition.
 But often yesterday, when Dublin either dummied or flicked the ball on, Collymore was absent - wandering around outside
 the area, from where he has often scored spectacularly but contributing little to the destruction of the Saints.

To be brutally honest, the home defence was so basically flawed that it barely mattered. Villa, however, face home
games before Christmas against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, when their ability to maintain, or even
extend, their three-point lead at the top of the table will be more closely examined.

Dublin's hat-trick was a fine example of single-minded opportunism. There looked no danger in the third minute when
Steve Watson's speculative cross floated into the Southampton area. But Dublin stole in, stooped to meet a ball of awkward
 height and beat Paul Jones with a header that crept in at the far post.

David Jones, the Southampton manager, claimed afterwards that despite that early setback his players bridged the gap
between the bottom and the top for long periods. That was wishful thinking. Villa were always supremely marshalled at
the back by Gareth Southgate, often broke with youthful confidence through the emerging Gareth Barry and Lee
Hendrie, and finished ruthlessly.

For two fleeting minutes just after the start of the second half Southampton posed a threat. They equalised when Matt Le
Tissier accepted a knockdown from substitute James Beattie, drifted past challenges by Barry and Southgate before deftly
placing his fourth goal of the season wide of Michael Oakes.

In a flurry of action, Ugo Ehiogu sliced a hurried clearance against his own crossbar and Beattie fired a shot from 20
yards wide of the Villa goal. But as David Jones said later: "We were our own worst enemy when attacking. We forgot
one vital component - keeping the back door shut. We got suckered by counter-attacking."

One moment Villa were seemingly under threat, the next they hit back incisively. Hendrie broke from midfield, withstood
Ken Monkou's challenge as he slipped the ball to Dublin on his left, and he beat Paul Jones with a measured curling shot from
20 yards.  Better still was Villa's third goal. Two passes by Barry and Collymore covered the length of the pitch before Paul Merson, who otherwise had a quiet afternoon, swept the ball home. Dublin was denied a hat-trick on his Villa debut against
Tottenham Hotspur by a linesman's flag, and he looked to have squandered a new opportunity when he shot straight at
Jones with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Five minutes from time, however, he made no mistake. With his back to the Saints goal, he reacted to Ehiogu's headed pass
by flicking the ball past Jones with the outside of his right boot. Whatever Southampton might claim, the margin was as
justified as it was emphatic.
Graham Otway

Martin Sivorn © 1999.E-Mail Me