I waited until I’d seen the whole game before posting a few comments but this was another fantastic point away from home.
The game wasn’t as even as our trip to Anfield (that still sounds absurd, by the way) and Villa will be very disappointed to have dropped two points in their push for the Champions’ League. I think O’Neill sending Villa out with a 4-5-1 formation helped us because I fancied John Carew to pose our defence some real problems in the air and, although Agbonlahor always looked lively, our centre backs dealt with him really well. That almost goes without saying because it’s been a while since you could criticise either Hangeland or Hughes. A mention in dispatches too for John Pantsil, who had a tough afternoon against Villa’s most creative player, Ashley Young, but stuck at his task admirably.
It certainly didn’t seem that Villa had an extra man in midfield. True, their midfielders found themselves on the end of some glorious chances (how Gareth Barry and Steve Sidwell missed two opportunities towards the first half I’ll never know), but Danny Murphy and Jimmy Bullard contained the home central midfield trio really well. My only concern was that we were a little bit ponderous in central midfield: Bullard seemed cautious, often taking a touch and turning back towards our net, rather than taking a more confident first touch, and Murphy was – as discussed before – more about containment than creativity.
As Villa took greater control of the second half, it was a little more about backs to wall but I feel it’s important to acknowledge the workmanlike performance of Clint Dempsey. The Texan has always had his share of knockers – somewhat unfairly in my opinion – but you can’t fault his workrate and determination. He seems to be really benefiting from an extended run in the first team and his sharpness was responsible for creating our two clearest chances. The first was an instinctive volley as he was losing his footing from a hopeful Zamora flick, whilst the second saw him run onto the ball into the penalty area and fire a shot at the near post, drawing a point blank save from Friedel.
Having lauded Mark Schwarzer during the week, we have to say he was a little shaky yesterday. He juggled a deep cross and nearly presented an opportunity to Barry (although the England midfielder’s finishing was so poor he probably still would have missed) and he was fortunate to deny the same player’s close range header by somehow fumbling the ball onto the bar. He still made a couple of decent saves and I feel a lot more comfortable with the big Aussie in our goal than other previous incumbent since Edwin van der Sar.
Like some others have mentioned, I’d have liked to have seen us so a little more ambition in the closing stages – rather than just passing the ball around to settle for a point – and it seems that Roy would rather we could create a few more chances. He’s right, although it is always going to be difficult to carve sides like Villa open when they have more of the ball. Since we’ve so often served up dross on the road, I’m happy that we’re now a lot more disciplined and looking organised enough to take something away from our away games.
ASTON VILLA (4-5-1): Friedel; Cuellar, Laursen, Davies, L Young; Sidwell, Petrov, Barry, Milner, A Young; Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Knight, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Dempsey, Davies, Bullard, Murphy; Zamora (Gera 85), A Johnson. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Nevland, Gray, Etuhu, Stoor, Kallio.
BOOKED: Dempsey, Pantsil.
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Chesire).