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
Ben Stokes and the strangest injuries in sport
Michael Schumacher ski accident: Sebastian Vettel pays tribute to F1 legend with special helmet for Australian Grand Prix
Six Nations 2014: How can England, Ireland and France win the title?
Manchester United v Liverpool: How will rivals handle European role reversal?
Nicholas Anelka sacked by West Bromwich Albion: Parting is such tweet sorrow for French striker
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 Best films on Netflix: 32 movies that will put an end to your scrolling
- 3 Istanbul protesters take 'Ellen selfie' from the back of a police van
- 4 Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Jet ‘hijacking’ began soon after take-off
- 5 Lady Gaga has struggled with eating disorders in the past, so it's indefensible that she's glamourising bulimia in her SXSW set
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia