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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Aston Villa 2-0 Southampton
Aston Villa celebrate Darius Vassell's opening goal
Aston Villa's strike pairing of Carlton Cole and Darius Vassell sparked them to a comfortable opening-day win over Southampton.

England striker Vassell gave Villa an early lead, reacting first after Lee Hendrie's shot was blocked.

Vassell then turned provider with a pass that allowed Cole to race clear and bury his shot past Antti Niemi.

Southampton showed some improvement after the break, with Kevin Phillips and Fabrice Fernandes going close.

Villa made a very bright start to the match, Darius Vassell's pace forcing Claus Lundekvam into a hurried backward pass, only for Gareth Barry to blaze over from 12 yards with just Niemi to beat.

Southampton's defence was flat-footed again on seven mintues when Carlton Cole rose highest to Thomas Hitzlsperger's free-kick to thump in a header which Niemi palmed away.

Villa continued to ask questions and grabbed the lead on 12 minutes through Vassell.

Jlloyd Samuel's cross was hooked on by Barry for Lee Hendrie whose shot was blocked, and Vassell reacted first to stab the ball home from six yards.

Jlloyd Samuel gets the better of Brett Ormerod
Jlloyd Samuel gets the better of Brett Ormerod

Danger again loomed when Cole worked his way to the by-line, only for his cross to deflect safely into Niemi's arms.

Without the injured James Beattie, Southampton's pint-sized strikeforce of Brett Ormerod and Kevin Phillips struggled to make any impact on Villa's solid central pairing of Olof Mellberg and Martin Laursen.

In contrast, Villa were bright and sharp about their business and Lundekvam's interception provided substitute Peter Whittingham with another opportunity, but this time Niemi stood firm to parry.

Villa keeper Thomas Sorensen had been a spectator for the opening half-hour but produced an amazing point-blank save to deny Mikael Nilsson a debut goal after Ormerod had pulled the ball back.

Normal service was resumed, though, when Villa doubled their lead on 35 minutes.

Vassell simply dinked the ball over Southampton's square back line and Cole outpaced Lundekvam to smack the ball home on the rise.

Saints emerged with more purpose after the break, no doubt following some stinging words from Paul Sturrock.

Half-time substitute Rory Delap's long throw was only half cleared to Fabrice Fernandes who volleyed wide from 18 yards.

Cole was a thorn in Southampton's side all afternoon
Cole was a thorn in Southampton's side all afternoon
It then needed a perfectly-timed tackle from Gavin McCann to deny David Prutton as Southampton opened Villa up for the first time, then Phillips' stinging shot from 20 yards had to be grabbed at the second attempt by Sorensen.

Jason Dodd was harshly penalised for a foul on McCann, giving Hitzlsperger a sight of goal but from 20 yards out the German youngster drove wide of the target.

And Southampton's miserable afternoon was summed up when Fernandes' goal-bound shot struck team-mate Phillips with Sorensen beaten.

Aston Villa: Sorensen, Delaney, Mellberg, Laursen, Samuel, Hendrie (Whittingham 22), McCann, Hitzlsperger, Barry, Cole, Vassell (Moore 85), Whittingham (De la Cruz 75). Subs Not Used: Postma, Berson.

Goals: Vassell 12, Cole 34.

Southampton: Niemi, Dodd, Lundekvam, Higginbotham, Le Saux, Fernandes, Prutton, Folly (Delap 45), Nilsson (Anders Svensson 45), Phillips, Ormerod (Crouch 68). Subs Not Used: Smith, Kenton.

Att: 36,690.

Ref: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).

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