Chelsea 1 Aston Villa 1: Irish psychic O'Neill reveals new vision of Villa's future

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Shortly before half-time, as Gareth Barry prepared to take a corner, Martin O'Neill bellowed at Steven Davis, loitering without serious intent outside the penalty area. O'Neill signalled him to move 25 yards square into a vacant area still well outside the box but closer to Barry. Seconds later the corner was cleared towards Davis. The Northern Irishman had time and space to pick out Liam Ridgewell with a deep cross, the ball was headed back across goal, and Gabriel Agbonlahor glanced in the equaliser which ultimately won Villa a point.

It was, for viewers of a certain vintage, like a scene from the comic book series "Billy's Boots", except it was not "Dead Shot" Keen's footwear guiding Billy Dane into the perfect spot but O'Neill's experience and instinct directing Davis.

In the post-match de-brief, O'Neill, who had earlier been asked if he was "a lucky manager", was asked if he "knew" the ball would go there. "Well, I should do," he replied. "I'm a long time in the game. That wasn't luck. And it's very satisfying when something like that comes off."

O'Neill was naturally very satisfied all round after Villa had become the first team to leave Stamford Bridge undefeated since Barcelona won there in February, 12 matches previously. Chelsea had controlled much of the game, and created enough chances to win it, but Villa, with a host of excellent performances, notably from Olof Mellberg, Stilian Petrov, Agbonlahor, Davis and, Chelsea's opening goal aside, Thomas Sorensen, deserved their draw.

Sorensen's ability to put behind him that goal, eventually scrambled over the line by Didier Drogba after the goalkeeper had failed to hold Arjen Robben's free-kick under pressure from John Terry, typified Villa's new mood.

That, said Jose Mourinho, owed much to O'Neill, whom he recognised as a kindred soul if not a doppelgänger. "When players have managers with spirit like us and this kind of character, they fight more, they are more motivated and they have more self-belief," said the Chelsea coach. "But we are not similar characters. Everyone has passion, but it's the way you express it. During 90 minutes I can show my passion for 10 minutes but Martin is 90 minutes. He shouts at everything and he complains about everything. Sometimes it is funny to look at him."

At one point in the match Mourinho suggested to O'Neill that he was in danger of killing himself. The exchange ended with hugs all round but, if there is now mutual respect, there remains an edge.

"He said I might trigger a heart attack. And he may well be right," O'Neill said. "But he was jumping around. When it looked as if he had scored a goal, when Shaun Wright-Phillips hit the crossbar, I saw this figure right in front of me and it was the wee man himself."

For neutrals, and especially the media, both are wonderful to have in the Premiership and their sides served up an open, gripping game. Though Villa were pressed back for much of the afternoon, it was ungenerous of Mourinho to suggest they had come for a point. Agbonlahor kept leading breaks well into the second period and had Juan Pablo Angel been either quicker or calmer, Villa would have inflicted Mourinho's first home defeat in the Premiership.

Instead, they became only the second team, after Charlton, to survive a Premiership match at the Bridge since April 2005. After Villa also gained draws at Arsenal and West Ham (before the latter's freefall), supporter ambitions are rising.

While cautious not to make any rash predictions himself - "we'll hit a massive bump, and it might be just in a couple of weeks time" - O'Neill admitted rising expectations could be a good thing. "Why not, why not? Absolutely. We'll deal with it accordingly," he said.

Expectations at the Bridge are so stratospheric that dropping any points constitutes a crisis to some, but there was also encouragement for Chelsea. Andrei Shevchenko, though never looking likely to score the poacher's goals he was bought to deliver, did a passable impression of his old Milan team-mate, Kaka, when he dropped deep. He glided past defenders, created chances with his clever passing and shot powerfully from distance. That will help his confidence even if eyebrows were raised when he was the one crossing from the flank in injury time, not the one trying to get on the end of things.

For the second successive Saturday Frank Lampard reprised his bravura role, attacking the box with gusto. But it was not a co-incidence that Michael Ballack was suspended on both occasions. The German seems to affect Lampard the way Kryptonite did Superman.

And Petr Cech, Terry and Claude Makelele were again superb. Just because that is true every week does not make it less significant. Chelsea, with such a spine, and the potential to improve further, remain the team to beat. As O'Neill concluded: "Mourinho's got a very fine side there."

Goals: Drogba (3) 1-0; Agbonlahor (45) 1-1.

Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Geremi (Kalou, 68), Carvalho, Terry, A Cole; Makelele; Essien, Lampard; Shevchenko, Drogba, Robben (Wright-Phillips, 68). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Boulahrouz, Mikel.

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Barry; Davis (Laursen, 83), McCann, Petrov; Agbonlahor, Angel, Moore (Baros, 40). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Whittingham, Berger.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Aston Villa McCann, Mellberg.

Man of the match: Sorensen.

Attendance: 41,951.

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