just over two years ago, we walked off that pitch at villa park with our heads held low, not believeing we'd just lost by that considerable amount. today we walked off with our heads held high (some people ran off giving the w*nker sign but that's another, quite hilarious, story)
the first half was pretty even. each team had their attacks and blues seemed to be comfortable and contained. they were a different team to what we saw last weekend and it was clear they'd all been saving something for this match. barry ferguson played his role brilliantly again, picking up the ball and always out the right passes, you just cannot fault the man. ridgewell kept carew under his control in the first half and the team was working as a unit of eleven and they were keeping villa under wraps.
for the majority of the game it was the story of two keepers. each making brilliant saves to keep their side from going behind. in the first half hart made a few good saves and one excellent save to tip a shot over the cross bar. and then friedel also making instinctive saves, especially when richard dunne made abit of a mess of things and seb larsson found the loose ball and shot first time. a few minutes later, craig gardner latched onto a bouncing ball, forcing friedel to make another great save. if you wanted me to pick a team that shaded the first half i'd say villa - just about - did. in terms of possession definitly, but blues were in the game, there was no doubt about that.
half time: aston villa 0-0 birmingham city
blues came out of the blocks very quickly in the second half, focring pressure almost straight away on the villa goal. barry ferguson and james mcfadden were both on hand to give blues their best chance of the game - the ball was fed through to jerome who lifted it up and friedel's face was the only thing in the way of blues going 1-0 up. a few minutes later blues got a corner, and an unmarked ridgewell would've given the away side the lead, were it not for stuart downing making an off-the-line clearance.
on the 67th minute a lofting blues freekick played cleverly to roger johnson, who headed the ball into the box from the far right, found craig gardner, who powered a shot that was blocked by several villa players. the rebound came to bowyer, who shot straight at goal, only for him to also be denied by a resilient villa defence.
emile heskey must of thought he'd get one over on his old team when he ran through on goal, and ran over to celebrate to the holte end, only to look back to see his shot being tipped wide by joe hart.
it looked as if blues had done enough to go home with a truly well deserved point, but that wasn't the case. and on the 83rd minute, gabby agbonlahor ran through on goal, and was tackled strongly by roger johnson in the area. to the dismay of the birmingahm outfield players, the referee pointed to the spot.
my first reaction was: that is a penalty. but on sky showing the replay, it was clear roger johnson got the ball, and his sliding tackle also brought down the man. i'm not going to go on about it, join hate groups for the referee, because i do not believe he could of seen johnson get the ball, it was just a cruel way to lose a derby we deserved so much more from. james milner, who hadn't had his best gamein a villa shirt, put all his bottled up anger he'd been collecting throughout the game into that shot, and fired home from the spot kick.
and that was it. there was pretty much nothing blues could do, although they had a few more chances, which were again blocked by the villa defence, after a series of james mcfadden's long throw ins.
i'm not going to make excuses for blues, i'm not going to lambast the referee - roger johnson, seb larsson and alex mcleish have done that for me already - but what i am going to say is that was not a deserved three points for villa, and they really should count themselves lucky that they managed to pull that off. a newly promoted birmingham team gave a top four chasing team a run for their money on sunday, and pride was applied in every single player's performance for blues. they were nothing short of outstanding, and to be done so wrongly in a derby, especially when we've played like that, will always leave you feeling bitter. always.
footnote: stephen carr running along the north stand giving them the w*nker sign gave him legend status. he saw the opportunity, he took the opportunity - thank you for doing what every one of us have wanted to do. villa fans call it 'stupid' we call it passion.
we've come a long way in two years
next up: burnley at home - 01/05/10 (live on sky sports 1, kick off 12:45)