Villa snatch derby spoils
Gabriel Agbonlahor broke Birmingham hearts when he headed home to give Aston Villa all three points.
By Richard Bailey
Last Updated: 13/09/09 2:57pm
Gabriel Agbonlahor broke Birmingham hearts when he headed home with just six minutes remaining to give Aston Villa all three points in the Midlands derby.
In truth the game never truly lived up to its billing with neither team looking like they wanted to go on and win the match.
Both sides started with just one recognised striker upfront and it showed in the lack of clear cut chances both teams failed to create.
Birmingham goalkeeper Joe Hart and his Villa counterpart Brad Friedel were virtual spectators all game until Villa boss Martin O'Neill decided to gamble.
On came the troublesome John Carew as Villa reverting to a 4-4-2 formation with Ashley Young and James Milner moving back to play down either flank.
In the end it was Carew who had a hand in the only goal of the game when he headed down a Young free-kick from the right into the path of the onrushing Agbonlahor, who had shrugged off the attention of his marker, to power his header into the bottom corner.
Villa, with three debutants in defence, James Collins, Richard Dunne and Steven Warnock, coped easily with Birmingham's initial advances in the early exchanges of the first half.
It was the visitors who had the first real chance to get on the score sheet in the seventh minute when Gabriel Agbonlahor slipped the ball to James Milner inside the penalty area.
But the Villa midfielder wanted too much time and his right-foot shot was well wide of Joe Hart's right-hand upright.
But City bounced back immediately and Villa were forced into some desperate defending as shots from Gary O'Connor and Sebastien Larsson were prevented from reaching their target.
There were plenty of fierce tackles in the opening exchanges but referee Howard Webb did well to keep things under control instead of resorting to a flurry yellow cards.
Both sides struggled to gain control in the midfield but the home side, boosted by the speed of James McFadden on the left and the work-rate of Larsson on the right, often had Villa on the back foot.
In the 21st minute though it was Villa's Milner again who squandered a great chance to put the visitors in front.
Agbonlahor's pace again proved too much for the City defence and when his low cross arrived into the penalty area, Milner's first-time effort scuffed off his boot and out of play.
City's first real opening arrived on the half-hour when a neat flick-on by O'Connor put Lee Bowyer in the clear.
The City midfielder tested Brad Friedel in the Villa goal with stinging right-foot drive that the American keeper did will to punch to safety.
But anything City could muster, Villa were eager to match and within seconds Milner sent a 20-yard drive wide of the target at the opposite end.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between with Villa's new-look defence repelling City's advances comfortably.
Crying out for quality
The game was crying out for some quality on the ball but it was not supplied by Bowyer. The City midfielder tried his luck from 25-yards out but his effort was well wide of the target in the 67th minute.
But Villa were living dangerously. James Collins twice failed to clear his lines and then Milner was forced to foul Fahey as City applied more pressure.
But Larsson's resultant free-kick, although directed into the centre of the penalty area, failed to bring any success.
In the 77th minute Warnock's cross found Sidwell at the far post but his header was straight into the arms of City keeper Hart.
Three minutes later Milner sent a right-foot shot towards the bottom corner from 20-yards but Hart managed to dive low to his left to keep it out.
But the deadlock was finally broken in the 84th minute when Young's free-kick was nodded back by substitute John Carew for Agbonlahor to apply the necessary finish from close range.
|Birmingham City||Team Statistics||Aston Villa|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|3||Shots on Target||2|
|5||Shots off Target||7|