Club Focus – Aston Villa – Honours even at Villa Park

Aston Villa were able to hold out for a respectable draw against Manchester City on Monday, despite going 1-0 up after 15 minutes. From recent performances, Manchester City look as though they have what it takes to genuinely tackle the top four, however Villa were able to match the Citizens in all areas of pitch, showing that spending little money and playing as a unit can also lead to success.

Richard Dunne and James Collins looked confident and assured in defence. The City attack of Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy and Emmanuel Adebayor failed to make an impression in the first half as a resolute Villa defending prevented them from having any clear-cut chances on goal. At the other end of the pitch, City’s £40m defence, consisting of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott, lacked any authority or cohesion and the Villans looked always the most likely to get the opening – and they did. It was fitting that ex-City player, Richard Dunne, would score the first against the club who had “forced him out”, and his decision not to celebrate was respected by his former teammates and fans alike. In truth, it was a simple headed goal from a corner which the Citizens failed to defend and Gareth Barry – who was marking Dunne – allowed his former teammate to get free and fire it past Shay Given in the City goal. Where Man City revealed frailties, the Villans showed strength and effectiveness.

The Villa attack had much to compete with, against the likes of Adebayor and Tevez in the heart of City’s attacking force. Nevertheless, Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew, Ashley Young and James Milner all proved that the Villans were just as effective in the final third of the pitch. Two minutes into the game, Agbonlahor nearly found the net with a back-heel which was parried by Given and James Milner’s shot from outside of the area just skimmed wide of the net. Styliyan Petrov then marked Villa’s authority of the game with a close effort from outside the box. When the goal eventually came five minutes later, Martin O’Neill’s side had deserved it and looked good value for their lead.

After the break, however, City were the better side and they pressed for an equaliser. O’Neill has every right to be proud of his defence who frustrated City until their equaliser. In the end it was a series of slick one touch passes that opened the Villans up and saw Bellamy smash a shot into the roof of Brad Friedel’s net. After the equaliser, the game started to open up and Villa began to play some impressive attacking football with Steve Sidwell going close to putting his side ahead again. However, in the final few stages of the game, both sides began to play much more defensively as a draw would be less damaging than a loss.

In a post-match interview, O’Neill was quick to praise his team’s performance: “I’m disappointed with the result but not the performance because we were just fantastic.” The Villa players showed great character and at times their growing attacking threat put the City defence under immense pressure. Dunne was rightly named man of the match after his almost faultless performance alongside James Collins. Just like Toure and Lescott for City, Collins and Dunne had never previously played together, but it was the Irishman’s experience at the back that was the difference. It is fair to say that both teams were fairly matched on Monday night and it is only a matter of time before we start to see which team can remain consistent enough to pose a challenge at the top end of the Premier League table.

Moving away from Monday night’s clash, Gabriel Agbonlahor will be extremely pleased that Fabio Capello has decided to give him an England recall after his recent prolific goal scoring form – Emile Heskey and James Milner have also been called up to the national squad. Whereas Agbonlahor will have to show he has what it takes to play in the World Cup, Heskey will have to win back O’Neill’s confidence in him in order to play a bigger part for his club.

The Villans stepped it up a gear in their clash against City and the players impressed fans and neutrals alike with their confident attacking play and resolute defending. After the international break, Villa play a strong Chelsea side at Villa Park where they will have to produce the same determination and confidence that they showed against Manchester City on Monday night to have any chance of breaking down Carlo Ancelotti’s men.

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