Aston Villa 1 Middlesbrough 1: Villa saved by Barry's contentious penalty
Thursday 13 March 2008
Martin O'Neill, having blamed the weekend's FA Cup surprises for cutting Aston Villa's chances of playing in Europe next season, watched his side do themselves no favours last night when they had to be satisfied with a fortuitous point in a match they needed to win.
Gareth Barry's second-half penalty, harshly awarded for handball against Luke Young, cancelled out Stewart Downing's goal for Boro midway through the first half. But with their game in hand over Liverpool and Everton now gone, Villa are a daunting seven points behind the fifth place they need to claim a Uefa Cup place, if they are not to be forced along the InterToto Cup route.
Given the feebleness of Boro's performance in their FA Cup defeat by Cardiff, it was hardly a shock to see changes in Gareth Southgate's line-up. Julio Arca and Fabio Rochemback were omitted in midfield and illness ruled out the striker Afonso Alves, the club's £12m record signing.
Those who were spared the axe responded with a spirit their manager found encouraging, although his mood was clouded by the penalty decision and he admitted his policy of not complaining about officials was being severely tested. "I don't like to go on because it always sounds like sour grapes," Southgate said. "But I've seen the incident again. Our lad's got his back to the play and the ball hits him and I don't see how it can be anything other than involuntary handball."
With a daunting fixture list ahead Boro could yet be dragged into a relegation fight. Yet they were dominant in the opening half, playing a high-energy game that kept O'Neill's team on the back foot and, though they had more defending to do in the second half they denied the home side even one clear-cut chance.
"We were poor and it is a setback," O'Neill admitted. "We need to be able to make chances even if we don't play well but we just weren't creative enough."
Boro went ahead after 23 minutes with a goal that was an uncomfortable experience for Zat Knight on his first start since Boxing Day. The defender, recalled after an injury to Curtis Davies, put his side in trouble with a poor clearance, picked up by Downing, and though he tried to retrieve the situation by closing down the England winger, he was passed with ease. With the way to goal clear, Downing beat Scott Carson with a low left-foot shot.
Villa were lucky not to be two goals behind within six minutes of the restart. Downing, who had already forced O'Neill to take Craig Gardner out of the firing line at right-back, sped past his replacement, Olof Mellberg, and squared the ball invitingly for Mido, who should have scored but lifted the ball over the bar.
Instead, Villa were given a lifeline when referee Steve Bennett ruled against Luke Young as the Boro player turned and spread himself to block Ashley Young's shot with 17 minutes left. If the ball struck Young's hand it was accidental. Barry duly sent Mark Schwarzer the wrong way from the spot.
Goals: Downing (23) 0-1; Barry pen (74) 1-1.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Gardner (Mellberg, h-t), Knight, Laursen, Bouma; A Young, Reo-Coker, Barry, Maloney (Harewood, h-t); Carew, Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Salifou, Osbourne.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; L Young, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz; O'Neil, Shawky, Boateng, Downing; Mido (Cattermole, 83), Tuncay. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Rochemback, Johnson, Grounds.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Middlesbrough Shawky, Mido, Schwarzer, Boateng, Huth.
Man of the match: Downing.
Latest in Sport
Chelsea vs Tottenham combined XI: Hugo Lloris or Thibaut Courtois? Willian or Christian Eriksen? Who makes the final cut?
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Eden Hazard exclusive interview - All is rosy in the garden of Eden
Arsenal vs Monaco: Theo Walcott 'involved in spat' with fans after Champions League defeat
Carl Frampton vs Chris Avalos; Tyson Fury vs Christian Hammer; Dmitry Chudinov vs Chris Eubank Jr - boxing on TV this weekend
Robbie Savage avoids driving ban - because he would get 'accosted' too much if he had to use public transport
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts