Classic Match: Aston Villa 2 Blues 2

By Richard Barker
Last updated : 30 October 2010

Villa led 2-0 after just 47 minutes, but Blues' never-say-die attitude shone through in the end, when Stern John equalised in the fourth minute of injury time.

With various injuries, mainly to left-sided players, Steve Bruce was forced into one or two more changes to the side. Fit again Stephen Clemence came in for the injured Stan Lazaridis, meaning that Bryan Hughes shifted to the left to allow Clemence to play in the middle. Olivier Tebily also returned at the expense of another injury victim, Matthew Upson. Tebily played right-back, whilst versatile Jeff Kenna moved to the left. Up front, there was a surprise recall for Christophe Dugarry, coming in for Clinton Morrison, who was on the bench alongside John and the returning David Dunn.

Blues just never got going throughout the first half, and were second best throughout. Darren Purse headed onto his own post early on, before Thomas Hitzlsperger shot wide as the home side piled on the pressure in a game that their manager had previously described as their 'Cup final'. They were certainly playing in such a way that represented that theory.

After 21 minutes, Villa managed their first Premiership goal against Blues in the fourth meeting of the sides. Damien Johnson - who was at fault for Sunderland's goal last week - was the culprit, as he failed to deal with an overhit Nolberto Solano cross. Rather then getting his foot behind the ball and clearing, Johnson decided to... well... I have no idea. The result was that Gareth Barry dispossessed him, and centred the ball where it was knocked home by Darius Vassell.

Blues were still struggling to cope with the up-tempo approach adopted by David O'Leary's men. Whilst Mikael Forssell just failed to connect with a half-chance, Villa continued to press, with a close range Vassell header being tipped around the post by Maik Taylor when everyone seemed to stop thinking that the England forward was offside.

Vassell was proving to be a menace for Villa, and credit must go to his doctor who clearly aided the most dramatic of recoveries from the bout of infulenza that ruled the player out of international duty. Perhaps he shares a doctor with Olof Mellberg, as the Villa captain was being as loud-mouthed in his duties on the pitch as he had been in the press during the week - again remarkable for a man withdrawn from Sweden's squad due to a sore throat. Fancy Blues being so silly as to allow the likes of Lazaridis to travel across the globe to represent his country, only for him to return injured.

At half-time, Blues were probably lucky that it was only 1-0, and were no doubt given a rollicking by Steve Bruce who would have been hopeful of a far better start to the second half. For a minute, that's what Bruce got, with Dugarry's audacious flick from a Johnson cross troubling Thomas Sorenson. However, just 2 minutes after half-time, it was 2-0. Lee Hendrie teed up Hitzlsperger, and everyone knows how he can shoot. Shoot he did, and his left-footed effort flew into the back of the net. Cue ecstatic scenes at the almost full (decent effort) Villa Park.

Not long after, a few substitutions took place that affected the rest of the game. Firstly, Dion Dublin replaced the injured Ronny Johnsen at the back for Villa, and was then woeful for the rest of the game. Secondly, Dugarry and Clemence were replaced by Morrison and Dunn, and this revitalised Blues.

Within minutes Dunn was making a fool out of Ulises De La Cruz down the Blues left, and was showing some absolutely sublime dribbling skills. Indeed, after just five minutes on the pitch, Dunn helped drag Blues back into the game. His jinking run down the left led to a ball into the centre for Morrison - he too was having an immediate impact. The Irish striker held the ball up superbly despite the attentions of the ill Mellberg, and knocked the ball to Forssell who finished coolly past Sorenson.

It was game on now, with Blues looking a new team thanks to the introduction of Morrison and Dunn. Blues were now enjoying the majority of possession, but Villa were now dangerous on the break as Blues piled forward. Forssell and Dunn both went close for Blues, whilst Vassell wasted a couple more chances (the flu must have caught up with him) before Juan Pablo Angel squandered a glorious opporunity after being set up by substitute Luke Moore. An even worse waste of an opportunity was Johnson's decision to blast a high cross over everyone's heads when a simple pull-back along the floor would no doubt have resulted in an equaliser.

As the game neared its conclusion, Blues threw on John for Kenna and reverted to three at the back. Blues were piling on the pressure as the board was held aloft indicating that there would be 4 minutes of stoppage time. After three of those minutes, Blues were still frustrated in their efforts.

However, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Blues got the reward their second half performance meritted. A ball forward was flicked on by Forssell, and Sorenson saved Morrison's effort. The ball though ran away from Sorenson, and fell to John who blasted the ball into the roof of the net from a couple of yards out to send the Blues fans behind the goal wild with celebration - not to mention the similar scenes of jubilation amongst John and his team-mates. The Blues fans greeted the final whistle with a chant of 'You'll never beat The Blues!' and Villa must surely be thinking along those lines now.

Make no mistake, Blues were woeful for 55 minutes, but the result was simply down to the introduction of Morrison and Dunn. Both were excellent, and whilst Dunn understandably tired given his lack of action of late, they were the reason behind Blues' comeback. In the first half, no one was at it, and performances have to be better. However, if the performance of the final 35 minutes is replicated on occasions this season, there could be far more highs than lows beckoning - including perhaps a return to the scene of this comeback in an FA Cup semi-final. Perhaps then the ground will be full.

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