Football: Collymore and Heskey suit game of enigma variations

Aston Villa 1 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Online
Phil Shaw

Aston Villa 1 Leicester City 1

A loud gasp which turned into a low groan, indicating envy as much as awe, greeted the announcement of the 12-goal aggregate glut by Birmingham and Wolves. The clubs who carried the Midlands standard into Europe this season had not contrived a dozen noteworthy incidents, let alone efforts on target.

Seven weeks before their Uefa Cup quarter-final with Atletico Madrid, Aston Villa did nothing to suggest they can succeed where Leicester failed against Juninho and company. For a club with championship aspirations, fielding two strikers that cost more than Leicester's entire squad, the relief which greeted Julian Joachim's late equaliser was embarrassing to behold.

By the same token, it said much for Leicester's rapidly receding ambitions that they appeared neither surprised nor unduly disappointed by the outcome. After all, they had invited it by massing in deep defence following Garry Parker's penalty. After entering October third in the Premiership and ending it half-way towards the putative safety mark of 42 points, they have won just once in 10.

In one respect, Joachim's face-saving header against his previous club exacerbated Brian Little's problems with front players. The 23-year-old, once touted as an embryonic Romario because of his diminutive frame and explosive pace, has now scored four goals as substitute this season. That brings him level with both Stan Collymore and Savo Milosevic - bought for pounds 7m and pounds 3.5m respectively - who have both started 20 or more matches compared with Joachim's two.

While it often appears that Brian Little is excessive only in his moderation, he is tetchiness itself when it comes to the media's dog-with-a-bone persistence over the Collymore conundrum. Asked whether Joachim merited a place in his starting line-up, the Villa manager sensed where the question was leading and brusquely brushed it aside.

Little took heart from the fact that Villa came from behind, as they had at Leeds and Portsmouth, but he was clutching at draws. Unless they make further inroads in Europe or enjoy a lengthy run in the FA Cup, the campaign will be written off as one of expensive under-achievement.

Leicester, despite last year's Coca-Cola Cup success, were not burdened by such expectations. Indeed, Martin O'Neill spent the first third of the season welcoming every point as another towards avoiding relegation. Whether this was kidology or candour, Saturday found him advancing a different line.

No, he was not worried by their failure to win games. The world and his wife (Mrs O'Neill, that is) kept telling him Leicester were not playing well, yet he believed they were. Besides, he noted wryly, the next two fixtures looked winnable: Liverpool home and Manchester United away.

The Leicester manager has his own attacking enigma. Emile Heskey may no longer be lumbered with the dubious nickname "Bruno" but nor is he punching his weight. A meagre haul of three goals includes just one in his last 16 outings. Watching the blue shirts struggle to turn possession into penetration, and seeing their dependence on set-pieces, it was easy to understand why a defender, Matt Elliott, is joint top scorer.

Heskey could not be accused of the lethargy which again afflicted Collymore. But his confidence is palpably low - once he allowed the Subbuteo-sized Alan Wright to head him off as he bore down on goal - and having reached the ripe old age of 20 yesterday, the disparity between potential and performance can no longer be excused on grounds of inexperience.

At 13 years his senior, Steve Walsh might be expected to be mellowing by now. Instead, his catalogue of dismissals ought to have been updated when he stamped on Ugo Ehiogu. A normally officious referee failed to caution the Leicester captain or even to consult the linesman. The Villa fans' indignation subsided quickly too, confirming a Birmingham-sized victory for apathy.

Goals: Parker pen (53) 0-1; Joachim (86) 1-1.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Staunton, Scimeca; Nelson (Joachim, 63), Draper, Taylor, Grayson, Wright; Collymore, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Charles, Hendrie, Hughes, Oakes (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Kamark, Elliott, Walsh; Savage, Lennon, Parker, Izzet, Guppy; Heskey, Marshall (Cottee, 73). Substitutes not used: Prior, Fenton, Wilson, Arphexad (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Villa: Nelson, Milosevic. Leicester: Guppy.

Attendance: 36,429.

Man of the match: Lennon.