Gerard Houllier is puzzled by Aston Villa's inability to score a goal. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
And so the first Second City Derby of the season comes to a close, although supporters on both sides were throwing up flags and yelling, "End! End!" about twenty minutes before Howard Webb blew the final whistle. Aston Villa and Birmingham City gave new meaning to the phrase, "Ground out a draw," with neither side making more than a few attempts on goal. Alex McLeish must be pleased to come away from Villa Park with a draw, but is it that much of an achievement to stop Villa, who haven't managed a goal in 354 Premier League minutes?
Yes, I'm keeping count.
Once again, Aston Villa completely disappeared for 25 minutes of the match, allowing the Blues to boss the match for the second half of the first. The Villa could barely touch the ball, much less get the ball into the other half. The lads couldn't string more than two passes together, giving the appearance of a team that has never played together. While Martin O'Neill was often dogged for his refusal to rotate the squad, one has to wonder if maybe squad coherence helped the team last season.
The Villa were much stronger in the second half, although after the first, it was hard not to improve. Nigel Reo-Coker sent a shot at Ben Foster for the first real chance of the game, but it was easily dealt with by the Birmingham keeper. Villa were much improved by the introduction of Barry Bannan, who immediately did everything Steve Sidwell was unable to do, livening up the match immensely. His central midfield pairing, Ciaran Clark, showed tremendous bravery in his first Premier League start, chasing a goal-ward ball only to collide with Foster as he rushed out to collect. The youngster's efforts were rewarded with a heavy nosebleed, which at least managed to stain Foster's gloves. Ashley Young caused hearts to race when he made his way through the Birmingham defense to set up a beautiful shot, but those same hearts broke when the winger struck the woodwork.
The Good: Barry Bannan. The twenty-year-old impressed when substituted for Sidwell, darting all over the pitch and even trying to beat Nikola Zigic to a header. Considering he's over a foot shorter than Birmingham's tree of a striker, he wasn't actually threatening, but it was still adorable. Bannan already has a great read of the game, taking the ball through the blue shirts until he found a sweet shooting space twenty yards out, forcing Foster into a diving save.
The Bad: Nigel Reo-Coker. While Villa's current captain was continued to provide a fine defensive display, even getting forward to put a shot on target, his grudge against Craig Gardner nearly resulted in a sending-off. Fortunately for Villa, Webb saw it fit to show yellow rather than red, but Gerard Houllier still pulled Reo-Coker in favor of John Carew (who promptly began mis-directing every pass that came his way). After the final whistle, NRC charged the pitch in an attempt to continue his row. Poor form from a man who's meant to be a leader.
The Ugly: Steve Sidwell. In addition to the fact that the man's face in and of itself is hideous, Sidwell contributed absolutely nothing to this match. His defensive "abilities" actively hurt the squad, considering they mainly consist of late tackles and high kicks. Fortunately, Houllier was willing to take a chance on young Bannan.