Superhero James Collins, or the work of Agent Ridgewell? Either way, Aston Villa are thrilled. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Aston Villa scraped a point against Birmingham City at St. Andrews, although it's debatable whether James Collins or Liam Ridgewell scored for the visitors. After moving across the city in August 2007, Agent Ridgwell scored an own goal for new club Birmingham City in his first Second City derby, so there's a precedent here. Clearly Ridgewell is upset about crossing sides and wants to make up for his error.
After Roger Johnson scored early in the second half, it seemed as though it was all over. Aston Villa don't take points from losing positions, rather, they lose points from winning ones. But after Gerard Houllier made a double substitution with twenty minutes left, bringing on Nathan Delfouneso and Barry Bannan for John Carew and Nigel Reo-Coker, Villa came to life, with the goal coming just two minutes later. A poor Ben Foster clearance put the ball to Marc Albrighton, whose cross deflected off Ridgwell. It's unclear whether it bounced in off the secret agent or if James Collins sent it home, but in the end, does it matter? Aston Villa rescued a vital point.
This result keeps both clubs out of the relegation zone, although it remains agonizing to see Birmingham City one point above the Villa. Considering Villa hit the crossbar four times (did they shrink the goals at St. Andrews?) it almost felt like this was a match that should've been won. Barry Bannan's reverse pass to Marc Albrighton (oh, the beauty) led to a goal line clearance, and, of course, Agbonlahor had a chance in the opening minute of the match.
Yet at the same time, it felt like a game that Villa were never going to win. Outside of the first five minutes, it seemed as though the side seemed resigned to simply stopping Birmingham, rather than actively challenging for a win. What was most concerning were Houllier's decisions. I've questioned them before, but I've never actively thrown objects around the room in frustration. Not only did he start John Carew after something like three months of no play, but he left the big guy on until the 70th minute, after it was clear he wasn't doing much of anything.
Not only did he stand firm in his decision, his other decisions were questionable, to say the least. Moving Stewart Downing more centrally made him almost ineffective, yet Houllier didn't budge. The wisdom of having Gabby combine with Ciaran Clark on the left side to stop David Bentley...well, Clark stepped up after about 25 minutes, but 'wisdom' is probably stretching it. I appreciate experimentation but it's almost as though Houllier put the names in a hat and drew them out randomly.
And, for goodness sake, find a way to play Barry Bannan. Reverse passes. Free kicks that drop in and allow for chances. Calm play, and the ability to read the game. Nigel Reo-Coker was likely necessary in an always physical derby, but as soon as Johnson put the other side ahead, it was time to bring in Baz.
But it's a point. At St. Andrews. We may have wanted a win, but coming back from being down is much better than conceding after taking a lead. The Villa kept their heads in it, which is more than we've seen them do in the past. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? That much remains to be seen.