Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 0
Aston Villa's chances of European qualification were left to depend on Chelsea
winning the Cup Winners' Cup - even after they produced a superb 10-man
defensive show to beat champions Arsenal through an incredible penalty from
Villa coped with the 24th-minute sending-off of defender Ugo Ehiogu to take
the lead with Yorke's cheeky chipped spot-kick 13 minutes later.
They then stood firm with a wonderful backs-to-the-wall performance against a
near full-strength Arsenal side.
Yet with Blackburn coming up with a late winner at home to Newcastle, the
victory at Villa Park secured only seventh place for Villa and left them
counting on Chelsea beating Stuttgart in Stockholm next Wednesday to qualify for
the UEFA Cup.
But even that finishing position represents a remarkable transformation since
new manager John Gregory took charge in February, when they were struggling in
15th place, just six points ahead of the relegation zone and with survival their
With nine victories out of the 11 games they have played under the new boss -
with defeats to Bolton and Barnsley at home - Villa have gone on a late surge
that has matched Arsenal's own title-winning form.
But when Ehiogu was dismissed so early on, their chance of Europe seemed to
have slipped away.
The centre-back had first been booked in the ninth minute when he blocked Marc
Overmars with his outstretched arm as the Dutch winger sped past him.
And 14 minutes later, he received his marching orders when he tackled Ian
Wright from behind - leading to protests for leniency not only from his Villa
team-mates but also from the Arsenal players.
But referee Graham Poll - who was technically correct if rather strict with
both decisions - was unmoved and made Ehiogu his 10th sending-off of the season,
becoming the first Premiership official to reach double figures in red cards.
Villa, who forced Arsenal keeper David Seaman into only one save in the
opening half-hour - a tip-over from a Julian Joachim header - were forced to
regroup but came out fighting with 17-year-old Gareth Barry making an impressive
full debut first in midfield and then in defence.
Thirteen minutes later, Poll awarded a penalty when Gilles Grimandi was
adjudged to have pulled Yorke back as the two players waited for a cross from
Yorke responded by reviving memories of his famous spot-kick against SheffieldUnited in the FA Cup two years ago.
He chipped the ball with the utmost delicacy
so that after Seaman had dived to the ground, the England number one still had
time to look up and see the shot travelling over his body almost as if in slow
Villa were on the back foot from then on as Arsenal - not at their best but
still posing a worrying threat a week ahead of the FA Cup Final - pushed forward
in a bruising and at times ill-tempered encounter.
Just after the break, Villa keeper Mark Bosnich was forced to dive low to his
right to save Nicolas Anelka's strike on the turn and Ray Parlour shot
wastefully wide after the teenage striker had run at the Villa defence.
Ian Wright, who suffered from poor service, was taken off on 65 minutes
without having pressed his World Cup claims but still Arsenal attacked.
On 72 minutes, Villa Park held its breath as Gareth Southgate gave away
possession, substitute Christopher Wreh found Anelka, he passed to Emmanuel
Petit and the French midfielder steadied himself in the penalty area before
driving his powerful shot against the post.
Stan Collymore was introduced for Joachim a minute later, yet still Arsenal
had openings, with Wreh going narrowly wide, Villa defenders lashing the ball
clear in a string of goalmouth scrambles.
With seconds left, Yorke could have sealed victory as he turned the Arsenal
defence and fired in a low shot which Seaman just managed to tip onto the post.
But victory was achieved - and only the late winner at Ewood Park muted the
Villa Park celebrations.
Aston Villa: Bosnich, Southgate, Ehiogu, Draper, Yorke,
Joachim (Collymore 73), Wright, Nelson, Grayson, Hendrie, Barry.
Subs Not Used: Milosevic, Hughes, Byfield, Oakes.
Sent Off: Ehiogu (24).
Booked: Ehiogu, Draper.
Goals: Yorke 37 pen.
Arsenal: Seaman, Winterburn, Vieira, Adams, Wright (Wreh 66),
Anelka, Overmars, Keown, Parlour (Platt 66), Petit, Grimandi.
Subs Not Used: Bould, Hughes, Manninger.
Booked: Grimandi, Vieira, Wright.
Ref: G Poll (Tring).