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Precocious talent who set the Premier League alight

Dalian Atkinson picked up the ball deep in his own half, shrugged off tackles from three members of Wimbledon's 'crazy gang', before impudently chipping a disbelieving Hans Segers from 30 yards.

As he celebrated the wonder goal with strike partner Dean Saunders, an ecstatic fan ran onto the pitch to shield the pair with an umbrella.

It is the best part of three decades since the talented but mercurial striker lit up a damp October afternoon at Wimbledon's drab Plough Lane, but to thousands of Aston Villa fans, Dalian Atkinson will always be remembered for that goal. Villa boss Ron Atkinson immediately hailed it the goal of the season, and few were arguing – even though the season was only seven weeks old.

The Shrewsbury-born prodigy was never going to be Mr Reliable, but when it came to entertainment he had few peers. His blistering pace, sublime skill, and his telepathic partnership with Dean Saunders set the Premier League alight in its inaugural season, taking Villa to runners-up spot. His manager was in no doubt that Villa would have won the title were it not for the striker's injury midway through. In 1994 he almost single-handedly won the League Cup for Villa, turning on the style in a 3-1 win over Manchester United at Wembley.

But after his namesake and mentor Ron Atkinson was sacked from Villa later that year, his career began to fade. A forgettable spell at Turkish side Fenerbahçe – interrupted by loan deals at Metz and Manchester City – were followed by stints in Saudi Arabia and South Korea, before he retired as a player in 2001.

Before arriving at Villa, Ron Atkinson had given the player his top-flight debut at Sheffield Wednesday. But while the player flourished under his namesake's tutelage, the veteran manager later revealed that the young striker frequently left him tearing his hair out with frustration

"At times Dalian could drive you nuts, and often did, as our countless bust-ups would surely testify," Atkinson senior wrote in his autobiography. "For all the barneys, I couldn't help admiring and liking the guy. I can remember standing their rollicking him more than once, only for the pair of us to finish up in a heap of laughter."

His career at Villa was also blighted by injury. Manager Atkinson's second signing on taking the reins at Villa in the summer of 1991, he scored a late winner on the opening day of the season against his former club Sheffield Wednesday. But his first season was ravaged by injury, and it would be his only goal that term.

The following season he again scored on the opening day of the season, becoming Villa's first scorer in the Premier League. He scored in each of the first three games of the season, but really came into his own a few weeks later when he was joined by diminutive Welsh forward Saunders. Saunders' formidable work-rate coupled with Atkinson's bursts of energy and silky skills created one of the most feared double acts in the league. The partnership put Villa on the brink of their first league title in 12 years, and Atkinson on the verge of an England call-up. But once again, injury would be Atkinson's downfall, and his place was taken by a young Dwight Yorke.

As well as the unforgettable goal against Wimbledon – which has been voted the greatest in the club's history – Atkinson will also be remembered for his heroics which delivered Villa's first silverware in 11 years. The image of him and Ron Atkinson larking around with the League Cup after the 1994 triumph perfectly sums up the forward's career at Villa – the precocious talent who relished the big occasion.

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