A thrilling game in Cardiff; great atmosphere, tough tackling, chances galore, but neither side could grab the vital goal.
Lambert set Villa up with a slightly different look. Bertrand passed a fitness test to play, so Lambert used Bennett as a left midfielder. Albrighton was recalled to the starting line-up after his sparkling second half performance against West Ham.
Indications early on were that the Bennett idea might be a good one as he was on hand to get to Albrighton’s over hit cross, something that might have worked against West Ham.
Both sides set up in a 4-4-2, but Cardiff appeared more threatening throughout the first half. Cardiff won almost every first ball and little clever first touches kept opening Villa’s defence. Vlaar had to step in to spare Baker’s blushes on more than one occasion.
Villa’s front 4 lined up pretty much the same, but Villa never seemed to have time to work the ball and often the first touch let them down.
Cardiff had a minute spell where it hit the woodwork twice. Campbell was through, but his finish caught Guzan’s hand and bounced onto the post. Then Noone burst through the middle and his clipped shot deflected off Westwood and looped over the keeper and hit the bar.
The second half was a total reverse. The defence didn’t play a high line and Jones began to fade. With Cardiff now unable to sustain drives, Westwood took over the midfield, partly because Mutch had limped off with a bad hammy and his replacement new to the top flight was stationed with Medal in a CDM role.
Albrighton and Bacuna began to have joy down the right, while Noone was a virtual spectator on the right and OGS dragged off Zaha who was having to defend like a right back.
Despite decent crosses, Benteke was not making the most of it. Just before the half he allowed Turner to get to a ball he was a yard behind and off balance and on several occasions the big striker seemed to shy away rather than attack crosses allowing Turner to look like Bobby Moore.
Benteke was also surprisingly slow. Cardiif’s defence not known for its speed was getting to the ball first on too many occasions. A defence splitting pass allowed Benteke into the area one on one. The old beast of last season would have let fly with a right foot shot for the opposite top corner, the new timid Benteke tried to run down the wing like a lumbering winger and his cross to Gabby was not surprisingly cut out by the recovering Turner.
Bacuna played a nice one two with Gabby but his shot swerved away from the far post. Delph saw a decent shot deflected and well saved by Marshall.Bennett missed a header, and the ball fell to Gabby whose toe poke had no purchase. Gabby should have tried a snap shot after a lovely flick from Benteke left him one on one with the keeper, but he delayed and Theophile was there in time to force his shot wide. In the dying moments Weimann, on for Bennett looked like he’d stolen a winner when he did try a snap shot Marshall twisted to palm the ball for a corner.
Villa used it’s familiarity with referee Foy to its advantage, knowing he allows a lot and pulled and bullied Cardiff especially in the first half. Cardiff will feel aggrieved not to have had a first half penalty when Baker about wrestled Jones to the ground, the former Stoke striker still got his cross in.
Overall, both teams will be happy for a point, but feel 2 got away.
Guzan: Did everything well.
Bacuna: Made some timely defensive headers and did well going forward.
Vlaar: Played both centre half postions, brilliantly.
Bertrand: Out of sorts. Noone stretched him in first half, but he was the more adventurous in 2nd
Westwood: Very good second half.
Delph: Looked good. Teams are figuring out his move where he stretches then pokes the ball and swivels.
Albrighton: Really good game. Even first half he had better stats than Noone, although Noone seemed to be running the game.
Bennett: I have been calling for him to be in this position since last season. Okay, it wasn’t great, but it was his first game.
Agbonlahor: Too wasteful with the ball.
Benteke: Lumbering, often disinterested.
Weimann: Showed good touches when he came on.
Man of match: Villa fans who seemed to have all but forgiven the West Ham game from kick off and never stopped getting behind team, and Cardiff fans who made it feel like a derby.