Colly wobbly costs Villa as fantastic Fowler strikes

HOT-HEADED striker Stan Collymore was back in the news for all the wrong reasons as Villa's 12-match unbeaten League record came crashing to a halt on a powder keg afternoon in Birmingham.

Collymore was sent off for two bookable offences - a horrid lunge on race row adversary Steve Harkness and a moment of madness when he pushed England golden boy Michael Owen in the head.

Collymore's disgraceful antics overshadowed an incredible six goal feast as Robbie Fowler's hat-trick and a Paul Ince header toppled the league leaders.

But Villa remain on top of the Premiership after Manchester United's shock defeat by Sheffield Wednesday.

Villa were two down inside eight minutes and out for the count, but Dion Dublin struck back with two goals to take his tally to seven in three matches for his new club and was denied a second consecutive hat-trick when a late penalty was saved by David J ames.

Villa had the startled look of an ambush victim. The shelhocked league leaders just didn't have an answer to Liverpool's electric start.

Some of the Holte Enders were still taking their seats when Ince outjumped the flat-footed Gareth Barry from a Patrik Berger corner to open the Merseysiders' account.

Before Villa went further behind, Michael Oakes produced a point-blank save to deny Fowler from six yards. Briefly John Gregory's men threatened as Collymore spurned a gilt-edged chance, mis-hitting a volley which James pushed clear with his outstretched boot.

But panic-stricken Villa's respite was only temporary.

Jamie Redknapp's curling pinpoint cross from the right flank in the eighth minute was glanced beyond Oakes by the elusive Fowler as he got in between Ugo Ehiogu and Steve Watson. It was as easy as shelling peas for Liverpool.

The bad blood which exists between Collymore and his former Anfield team-mate Harkness erupted again in the 12th minute when a disgraceful lunge from the Villa marksman resulted in the Liverpool man being stretchered off. Collymore was booked for the rec kless challenge, but he could have had no complaints had the card been red.

Last season when the two clubs met at Villa Park, Collymore accused Harkness of making racist remarks at him during a flair up in the tunnel.

The race row rumbled on for weeks with Harkness threatening legal action if Collymore didn't retract his allegations.

Villa were still fingering their worry beads when Owen, fit again following a hamstring injury, almost killed off the Midlanders with a delicious chip that the back-pedalling Oakes just managed to paw to safety.

And it could have been Czech mate if Berger had not dragged an effort wide following Redknapp's defence-splitting pass.

Villa's best moments of a frenetic first half came near halime when Dublin clattered a shot against the upright and Collymore headed hopelessly wide from two yards out after a mesmerising cross from the mercurial Paul Merson.

Villa needed a goal just before the interval to lift their spirits but had to wait until two minutes after the break to put the skids under Liverpool.

Watson's cross from the right wing looked innocuous but Dublin some how escaped the clutches of Jamie Carragher and his adroit volley on the turn past James and into the corner of the net. But Villa's joy was short lived. Vegard Heggem was allowed too mu ch space in midfield and as Villa retreated the Norwegian fed Fowler who drilled an immaculate shot which gave Oakes no chance in the 58th minute.

It was really see-saw stuff by now and six minutes later there was another amazing twist when Liverpool were carved open by a Merson pass. Collymore's centre, his last legal contribution of the game, was tapped home by Dublin from close range. Again Vill a were rocked back on their heels in the 66th minute when a brilliant Redknapp cross eluded the home rearguard and Fowler steered the ball into the net for his hat-trick to put Liverpool 4-2 ahead.

But Collymore was never more than one bad tackle or fiery look away from spontaneous combustion and in the 68th minute he got his marching orders after lashing out at Owen. The England striker dived in with a two footed tackle on Collymore but for good m easure the Villa man retaliated by pushing Owen's nose into the turf.

Still this extraordinary game had another chapter to be written as never-say-die Villa fought back to earn a penalty after substitute Julian Joachim had been fouled in the penalty area by James.

But the Liverpool keeper made amends to deny Dublin his second successive hat-trick, but the former Coventry man would be the first to admit his spot-kick was taken too casually.

Even then Villa continued to press forward in search of a great escape with Merson a constant menace to the men from Anfield.

SUBSTITUTIONS: Villa: Thompson (for Draper 51), Joachim (Wright 75), Charles (Watson 87). Liverpool: Bjornebye (Harkness 12), McAteer (Berger 64), Riedle (Owen 79).

SENT OFF: Collymore (Villa)

BOOKINGS: Liverpool Redknapp, Owen.

REFEREE: Mr P Jones (Loughborough).

STAR MAN: Paul Merson
COPYRIGHT 1998 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd

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