Ridgewell and West Brom midfield player Jonathan Greening were both red-carded by referee Rob Styles after squaring up to each other on the hour mark. Villa led through Darius Vassell’s 27th-minute header at the time, pouncing after Ridgewell’s header had been pushed onto the crossbar, but went on to draw and O’Leary was quick to apportion the blame.
“The sending-off didn't help us and it won't help us for the next few games because I'm really short of bodies in that department,” Tubbs said of the man replacing crocked captain Olof Mellberg. “I think the referee was right. You can't afford to stick your head in peoples' faces and try to be the big hard man. You walk away from those sort of things and, apart from costing us the game, it will cost us even more in the next few matches. I've no-one to play there now.”
In the realms of avoiding the issue, this is akin to Tony Blair basing his re-election campaign on the proposal to extend the country’s ‘Villages in bloom’ scheme to include large hamlets. Villa could and should have settled the game before half time with Juan Pablo Angel, Lee Hendrie and Jlloyd Samuel - enjoying his best game for some time all went close before the interval.
Bryan Robson admitted his side were very much second best in the opening period and shuffled things during the interval. “O'Leary played a diamond shape in midfield and Lee Hendrie was causing us problems so we changed our system at the end of the first half and matched Villa and we looked better that way,” the former Manchester United midfielder said.
The changes almost wrought reward soon after the interval when Martin Albrechtsen came close soon after the restart as Villa were put on the back foot. They were still there when Ridgewell and Greening saw red and as Delaney was able to move across to the centre with Ulises de la Cruz coming in at right-back, the apportioning of blame on the admittedly stupid squaring up is risible.
Thomas Sørenson looked to have earned the home side a point as he denied Zoltan Gera but he could do nothing about Paul Robinson’s injury-time equaliser, heading in a cross from former Villain Ricardo Scimeca. Robson was typically sanguine on the match: “I’m really pleased with the response of the players in the second half, to raise their game and create some of the situations we created. I thought we deserved the point.”
He also had a different perspective on the flare-up after seeing his side move out of the bottom three for the first time in five months. “It was one of those 50-50 situations for a referee where he could have said `behave yourself and get on with the game'. I don't think there was a real serious blow from either player.” O’Leary has more faces than Big Ben, however, and in his continued search for impunity - the same search that has curtailed his unwillingness to promote youngsters to the first team - found a comfortable scapegoat in Ridgewell. In truth, Villa were simply very disappointing in the second half.