Fair result at the Villa as neither side do enough to earn three points

The Blues tonight earned a decent point away at one of their main rivals in an exciting end-to-end game at Villa Park. Gareth Barry, as expected, received a disappointing reception from the home support as in-form Welsh forward Craig Bellamy got us a draw after former City captain Richard Dunne had put his new employers infront with a first half header.

Martin Petrov, superb against West Ham a week ago tonight, made way for Emmanuel Adebayor, free to play after serving his three-match suspension. The recently ill Stephen Ireland had to make do with a place on the substitutes bench as Craig Bellamy continued on the left in a 4-4-2. Villa lined up as expected, with Steve Sidwell replacing summer signing Fabian Delph in the middle.

The home side certainly started the game the brighter, and could have taken the lead inside of two minutes as an Ashley Young corner was flicked on at the near-post by the lively Agbonlahor, Given forcing the ball onto the frame of the goal. Winger Young was getting lots of the ball on the left, and giving Pablo Zabaleta a tough time of it, laying off for Stilian Petrov to lash wide just before the quarter-hour.

In truth, we weren't really at the races for parts of the first period. James Collins and Richard Dunne between them were doing an excellent job on the returning Adebayor, Sidwell was putting his foot in around the midfield, and our player most likely to make a difference, Bellamy from the left, was being marked well by Carlos Cuellar. Our only real chance early doors coming down that side, when Bridge and Bellamy, having doubled up on Cuellar, worked a good move resulting in the Welshman overlapping and crossing for Adebayor, but Friedel smothered.

After fifteen minutes Villa took the lead, with Dunne putting home a powerful header at the far post following a corner from left-back Stephen Warnock. No hard feelings at all towards the big fella, as much as i hate us conceding goals, he's got a job to do, and he showed his respect for us fans with a lack of real celebration. Sentiment aside, another goal conceded from a high cross into the box. We really need to do a bit of work in that respect, we get bullied in the air now and again and our marking can be off.

On conceding we did up things, but with no real bite in the final third. Warnock was having the better of SWP and with Ireland missing we had no real creative drive from midfield. Carlos Tevez began to drop deep and at least got a few shots away, but none to trouble Friedel. Ten minutes before the break saw an incident which really changed the game for both sides. Nigel de Jong threw himself into a tackle on Young, unfair and correctly a booking. Young, though he soldiered on, could never get back into full flow, and the Dutchman's replacement, Ireland, really went on to make the difference for us.

Our best chance of the half would come shortly before the interval. Gareth Barry, roundly booed for the whole game, delivered a superb inswinging free-kick, Adebayor rose like a salmon and his strong header forced a good reaction stop from Villa's American 'keeper. I personally thought we edged the first half, certainly had more possession in the final thirds of the pitch, but being flat up front we had no real complaints going in 0-1 down.

Within a couple of minutes of the restart either side could have bagged one. Firstly, Barry swung in a cross-cum-shot with his right peg, just evading the far post or a touch from Adebayor. To the other end and James Milner found himself in acres of space on the right, blazing just wide with a fierce effort. The introduction of the recently-ill Ireland, though, really changed the tempo of the game, and put us in the ascendancy.

The majority of the second half was played in Villa's half, with only occasional attacks from Martin O'Neill's side. Tevez found Wright-Phillips free on the right, who cut inside Warnock only to see his cross cleared. The miniature England winger was then rightly booked for pulling his opposite number back by the shoulder minutes later. Dunne had another chance from a corner, heading just wide, strange to see him so dangerous from set-pieces when he was rarely a threat in that respect for us.

The equaliser came in the 67th minute, and it was well on the cards. Ireland fed a ball forward that deflected off a Villa man to SWP on the right. He found the Irishman who slipped a ball round the centre-half to Adebayor who cut back for Bellamy to smash home into the roof of goal from around the edge of the six-yard box. It was a terrific move; the vision from Ireland, the movement of Adebayor, and another important goal for the in-form buy from West Ham.

There was a definite lull in proceeding after the goal. We certainly looked the more dangerous but both sides seemed quite content with playing out for a draw. Young was replaced, ditto Tevez for us. Santa Cruz didn't really have any impact on the game, but understandable considering his recent lay-off. Bellamy continued to harass his full-back, certainly getting the better of him later on, and the passing allround became more crisp, accurate and offensive.

All told, a draw was probably a fair result. Villa defended resolutely and without our strikers doing too much it would be hard to make a case for us deserving three points. Dunne and Collins were superb for them, and Young, in either half of the pitch. For us, Toure was warrior-like, Zab assured in the later stages, Lescott steady, and Bridge looked extremely composed. Barring the set-pieces we defended well. Barry also coped superbly on his return and grew into the game as it wore on, and as above, the tigerish Welshman, written off as a panic buy on arriving in January, again showed what a good player he is.

Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong (Ireland '50), Wright-Phillips, Barry, Tevez (Santa Cruz '69), Adebayor, Bellamy

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