x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

O'Neill's men are up for the fight

Aston Villa clearly have fire in their bellies, evidenced by the training ground spat between manager Martin O'Neill and midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, and by a comfortable win over Portsmouth.

James Milner, right, celebrates his goal with Villa teammate Gabriel Agbonlahor.
James Milner, right, celebrates his goal with Villa teammate Gabriel Agbonlahor.

BIRMINGHAM // Aston Villa clearly have fire in their bellies, evidenced on Thursday by the training ground spat between manager Martin O'Neill and midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, and by a comfortable win over Portsmouth, their fifth successive victory. But what a contrast Portsmouth are. Six straight defeats in the league, rock bottom of the table with no points and apparently no stomach for a fight. They were short on ideas and luck, with careless defending seeing them two goals down by half-time, and even though they threatened the Villa goal in a more even second half, they could not find a way past goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

If Villa were a club in disarray, as some observers suggested after the week's events, it did not show, especially in a first half in which they cruised into a commanding lead. The fiery O'Neill and Reo-Coker clashed during training and there was only likely to be one winner - the manager ? who excluded the midfielder from the squad. But it made no difference as Villa's attacking threat was only enhanced by his replacement John Carew.

The Norwegian striker was partnered with Gabriel Agbonlahor in attack as Villa simply overpowered Portsmouth. The tone was set in the 10th minute when a vicious cross from the left by Young was almost headed into his own goal by Younes Kaboul, forcing David James into a sharp save. James Milner had a volley blocked and Steve Sidwell was denied by a last-ditch tackle before Villa made the breakthrough in the 33rd minute. Nadir Belhadj tripped Stiliyan Petrov as he ran through, referee Stuart Atwell pointed to the spot and Milner thumped the ball past James.

Two minutes before half-time Villa increased their lead when Tal Ben-Haim allowed Agbonlahor to turn him 25 yards from goal, and the young England striker belted the ball past James from the edge of the penalty area. There looked to be no way back for Pompey, though they tried hard after the break. Friedel made three fine saves in the space of five minutes as Portsmouth peppered his goal from range, with Jamie O'Hara, Kaboul and Frederic Piquionne all denied. In response, Villa kept James on his toes, with a Petrov shot through a crowded penalty area bringing an excellent save from the England goalkeeper.

In the end though, Villa coasted through the closing minutes with plenty to spare. They have recovered from the shock of their opening day defeat to Wigan but Portsmouth are in deep trouble, having made the worst start to a season by any side in the top flight since Leicester City 26 years ago. @Email:sports@thenational.ae