Blues 0 - Villa 0

Last updated : 25 October 2003 By Richard Barker
Aston Villa

Considering what went on in the two games between the teams last season, perhaps the biggest surprise was that there was no pitch invasions, no sendings off but most disappointingly, no real chances.

Steve Bruce opted to recall fit-again Robbie Savage and available-to-play again Mikael Forssell to the starting line up, with Aliou Cisse and Olivier Tebily giving way. This meant David Dunn dropping back into a wide right midfield berth, with Damien Johnson moving even deeper to right back. Ian Bennett also made his first start of the season, in for the suspended Maik Taylor.

Villa made a few changes of their own, and played a 4-5-1 formation with Juan Pablo Angel as a lone striker, and Darius Vassell and Ulises De La Cruz in wide midfield roles, linking up with the Colombian when they could.

Blues started the game tentatively, and Villa enjoy several minutes of territorial advantage, before the best chance of the game fell to Stephen Clemence after just 5 minutes. Stan Lazaridis and Christophe Dugarry worked the ball down the left, and when the ball was pulled back across the area, Clemence was motoring in, but chose the wrong option in trying to place his shot. Perhaps if he had got his head down and put his foot through the ball, Thomas Sorenson would have been tested far more than he was with the effort.

Blues were struggling to get any real rythmn into their play, with Dunn and Dugarry in particular not firing on all cylinders. Villa seemed happy to try and contain Blues and look to hit on the break with the pace of Vassell and De La Cruz. Forssell went close for Blues, whilst Gavin McCann hit a weak shot straight at Bennett, and Angel headed wide on two occasions.

Referee Mike Riley was handling the game well by trying to keep his cards in his pocket as far as he possibly could. Clemence, Savage and Lee Hendrie earned first half bookings, with the cards for Clemence and Hendrie coming after a scuffle between most of the players. However, on the stroke of half time, Riley had a key decision to make. Forssell appeared to be rugby tackled to the floor in the Villa area, but the referee decided against awarding a penalty, much to Blues frustration.

If the chances in the first half were sparse, then in the second half, they were non-existent - Bennett and Sorenson never had a thing to do. Blues continued to play poor football, with move after move breaking down, whilst Villa continued to acquit themselves fairly well in containing Blues without offering any attacking threat of their own. Dugarry and Dunn were by now becoming liabilities, as both men seemed to think that as they were the most skilful players on the pitch, they had a divine right to win the game on their own, with a little bit of magic. Instead, Dugarry kept surrendering possession, whilst Dunn was even worse - tripping over his own feet at times.

As the game neared it's conclusion, Villa had slightly more pressure, though again Bennett never had a thing to do, other than clear the odd back pass, or collect the odd overhit ball. When Mike Riley blew the full time whistle, half of the Railway End erupted as if Villa had won the European Cup, whilst the rest of St Andrews headed for the exits in sombre mood, but at least relieved at not having lost the game.

So, Blues moved back up to fourth, kept a remarkable seventh clean sheet in nine league games, and again picked up something against their poor relations from Aston. The disappointment in the air at the end is really a sign of how far Blues have come, and that was further emphasised by the elation from the Villa fans at earning a draw - which was the fair result. Now the city of Birmingham can calm down a little, and after games against Manchester United, Chelsea and Villa, Blues can still enjoy their lofty status, and hopefully return to winning ways at the Reebok Stadium next week.