Villa and Birmingham shared the spoils in an uninspiring second city derby at Villa Park. Villa pushed Ciaran Clarke into Stilliyan Petrov’s holding position, and preferred Sidwell to Ireland. Blues, used Fahey as a midfield forward, leaving Jerome Cameron on the bench.
Villa was the dominant force early on, but could not turn their pressure into chances. Young pushed a ball teasingly in front of Heskey, but the striker couldn’t get a foot on the ball. Foster was happy to see his clearance, that was charged down by Reo-Coker, bounce to safety.
Just before that, the game threatened to get ugly, when Reo-Coker, unhappy at Gardner’s second poor challenge in as many minutes, put a threatening finger in the ex Villa midfielder’s face. Howard Webb diffused the situation, cautioning the Blues man and warning the Villa player.
The first 30 minutes had Villa determined to show the Blues fans, that they were now a passing team, as Blues pressured the Villa back four high up the field, forcing Villa too often resort to the long ball. Blues, with Alexander Hleb, were determined to show, that they now had the Arsenal quick pass system, however, most of their passing movements were slow and their moves ended up with over hit through balls going out of play.
Almost like a light switch, however, Blues upped their tempo and Villa found them self being pinned back and unable to get out of their own half.
Zigic found himself in the book for an elbow to the face of Collins and before the half, Warnock joined him in the ref’s book for a late challenge on Hleb. Both challenges looked worse than they were.
Villa, started the second half with a new energy, and Sidwell, suddenly started looking like a player that was going to be subbed if he didn’t buck up his ideas. But, after 10 or 12 minutes, it looked as though, for all the possession, Villa weren’t going to create anything. And Houllier decided enough was enough and Barry Bannan replaced Sidwell as threatened.
Reo-Coker had a decent curving shot that barely tested Foster. Then he caught Johnson leaving the centre half in discomfort. Cameron came on for Hleb, who really didn’t look right for a local derby game. Cameron soon made his presence felt by using his strength to out muscle Dunne, but whether he was not yet used to the game speed , or down to a lack of match fitness, he let Villa off, by driving his cross straight at Friedel, with Zigic all alone on the far post.
Reo-Coker was lucky not to see a straight red card when he kicked out at Gardner after the two tussled in midfield. Howard Webb, determined not to lose control of the game as happened in the world cup final last summer, decided a final warning and a yellow card was in order. The Villa captain kept mouthing with Barry Ferguson and Bannon showing maturity beyond his years pushed the former West Ham player away from trouble.
Houllier, decided it was time to pull off Reo-Coker and replace him with John Carew.
Bannan brought the best save of the game from Ben Foster. His curling left footer from outside the area was a foot or so lower than he’d hoped and the Blues keeper palmed to safety.
With six minutes remaining, Clarke almost got his head on the winning goal. Carew beat the hobbling Johnson in the air, and Clarke under pressure from Foster, couldn’t direct his header on target.
Cameron hit a low shot that won a corner. From the corner a header blazed over the bar.
A jinking run from Ashley Young ended with a fizzing shot that smashed the outside of the post.
Blues, had pretty well gone the entire second half playing that slow paced game that rarely worried Villa, gone was the quicker style that had been so dangerous for the last 15 minutes of the first, but it was Blues that almost stole the game in injury time.
Larsson seemed to take almost an agonizing minute to line up and take a free kick, but when he did it was a lethal ball, that found Zigic’s head. However, Zigic almost seemed not to even change the trajectory of the cross.
The game fizzled out after that and the two teams will be happy that they didn’t lose.