Aston Villa 0 West Bromwich 0: Robson braves blizzard to walk into referee storm

The Albion manager, resembling a latter-day Captain Scott as he strode out into the blizzard, made his point to Mr Halsey in belligerent style although he later insisted he was "quite calm" as they exchanged views. He then walked into a potential storm of a different kind by alleging that officials regularly discriminate against his team.

According to Robson, the Villa defenders Aaron Hughes and Liam Ridgewell each handled the ball to keep out efforts by Kevin Campbell and Diomansy Kamara as a frenzied contest entered its final 20 minutes. The referee told him that he had seen in both a case of ball-to-hand, but Robson, having studied the incidents again on video, vehemently disagreed.

"We get more decisions against us than for us by far," he said in the kind of unguarded manner that tends to attract disrepute charges. "I don't know why. All I know is that we're not getting the breaks. There's no doubt that we should be sitting fourth from bottom by now." Robson went on to call for television technology to be used to ensure "justice in decision-making". He cited the fact that Villa won the previous meeting between the clubs with a spot-kick which he claimed was awarded after a shot struck Albion's Steve Watson on the arm.

David O'Leary, the Villa manager, was in broad agreement, having been impressed by rugby union's use of replays. But he pointed out that his side were also refused one when Luke Moore seemed to be sent tumbling on the edge of the area in the closing stages.

Albion's anger and disappointment carried strong echoes of their reaction to last month's stalemate at Birmingham. Here, as at St Andrew's - where they came from behind after a penalty was dubiously given against them - they failed to translate territorial dominance into goals.

Their parlous position meant they needed to win, whereas a draw would suit Villa if not quite assuage O'Leary's burgeoning army of critics. Albion duly carved out most of the clearest chances, yet by the end it was easy to see why they have scored a paltry seven away goals.

Kamara, who perpetrated one of the misses of the season at Birmingham, was repeatedly exposed as a flawed finisher. When he did put a header on target, diverting Zoltan Gera's fulminating volley on the half-hour, Thomas Sorensen made a breathtaking leap to tip the ball over.

Either side of that incident, Villa's Kevin Phillips had seen Thomas Kuszczak touch his flick on to the bar and then save his weak side-footed shot. Both opportunities stemmed from crosses by the pacy Gabby Agbonlahor, 18, a striker who adapted well on the left of midfield.

Albion's second-half ascendancy gave Gary Cahill, 20, a platform. With both sides containing several headless chickens (if the expression is still allowed in an age of avian flu), Villa's debutant cut a composed figure as Hughes and Ridgewell lent a new, literal meaning to Palm Sunday.

Two minutes after Villa's double penalty reprieve, Cahill cleared off the line from Watson. There soon followed an almighty scramble in Sorensen's six-yard box, sparked by Gera's header from a corner by Jonathan Greening, but Albion, despite replacing their strikers with Kanu and Stuart Nicholson, lacked the guile to break through.

O'Leary, whose team receive Birmingham next Sunday, conceded that it would have been "a bit of a crime" if Villa had won. Like the relief that greeted a home draw with the Premiership's 19th-placed club, it was a measure of the mediocrity prevailing at Villa Park that the gaps in a crowd of only 33,303 were in the claret-and-blue sections of the stadium.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma; Hendrie, Davis, McCann, Agbonlahor; Baros, Phillips (Moore, 74). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), De La Cruz, Whittingham, Gardner.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Watson, Davies, Clemence, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork (Inamoto, 83), Quashie, Greening; Kamara (Nicholson, 79), Campbell (Kanu, 79). Substitutes not used: Albrechtsen, Carter.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booked: Villa Cahill. Albion Robinson, Wallwork.

Man of the match: McCann.

Attendance: 33,303.

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