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Villa romp home in Mellberg's derby farewell

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Zat Knight, Gareth Barry and Ashley Young of Aston Villa celebrate Gagriel Agbonlahors goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Birmingham City at Villa Park on April 20, 2008. Credit: Jamie McDonald, Getty Images

Zat Knight, Gareth Barry and Ashley Young of Aston Villa celebrate Gagriel Agbonlahors goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Birmingham City at Villa Park on April 20, 2008. Credit: Jamie McDonald, Getty Images

Zat Knight, Gareth Barry and Ashley Young of Aston Villa celebrate Gagriel Agbonlahors goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Birmingham City at Villa Park on April 20, 2008. Credit: Jamie McDonald, Getty Images

Olof Mellberg, who is leaving for Juventus on a free transfer next month, will always be remembered as more than just a very good player by Aston Villa fans. He may yet even attain legendary status after taking his leave of the field five minutes from time yesterday with clenched fists raised to all sides of Villa Park at the culmination of the biggest league victory in a second-city derby since 1960.

It was more than just a farewell gesture. Mellberg is the player who dared to speak his mind and admit he did not like Birmingham City supporters after they invaded the pitch at St Andrew's in 2002 to mock keeper Peter Enckelman for his own goal as Villa were trounced 3-0.

Yesterday, the Sweden defender took his revenge. He milked the moment, as he was replaced by Marlon Harewood, and it was like a fighter waving to the crowd as his victim groggily gets back up off the canvas.

Mellberg was only taking his lead from the hundreds of cowed Birmingham supporters who traipsed towards the exit doors just after the hour mark as their team, now deep in relegation trouble, went four goals down.

As Birmingham face Liverpool on Saturday hardly daring to countenance matches against Swansea City and Carlisle United next season, Villa could yet be heading for Europe. They have scored 15 goals in their past three games and only Manchester United have amassed more league goals.

Ashley Young, who scored twice, and Gareth Barry, in particular, turned in superb individual performances. Admittedly Birmingham, lacking Sebastian Larsson and Damien Johnson, were poor, but they were ground into submission by the superiority of Martin O'Neill's team, with John Carew leading the line in awesome fashion.

Villa's goal spree means they have a better goal difference than Everton, in fifth place, whom they trail by three points before next Sunday's trip to Goodison. That game is starting to resemble a playoff for a Uefa Cup place.

Yesterday Villa flowed forward confidently. Maik Taylor saved a free kick from Barry and Stiliyan Petrov dispatched a powerful shot that the goalkeeper could not hold. Then Barry surged into the penalty area and, when his right-foot centre was cleared to Mellberg, he bobbled a pass for Young to drive in.

Carew was starting to turn his markers and run from deep to cause Birmingham repeated problems, and three minutes before half-time he rose to flick in Young's brilliant in-swinging free kick.

Game over. Carew slid in Barry's square pass, for his 12th goal of the season, after the captain shouldered Liam Ridgewell aside with ease and then Young hoodwinked two defenders with a shimmy of the shoulders to dribble into the area and, at the second attempt, strike the goal of the game.

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Even after Mikael Forssell slid in a consolation, Gabriel Agbonlahor put the icing on the cake by cutting inside two defenders to take his season's tally into double figures. (© The Times, London)


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