Davies finds the safety net at last

Bolton Wanderers 2 Aston Villa 2
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The Independent Football

Bolton battled like a team worried about relegation issues to twice equalise against a Villa side which looked capable for most of the afternoon of sustaining its outside chance of a Uefa Cup place.

Much of the drama in a game of variable quality was crammed into the last few minutes. First, Bolton's best chance of a second equaliser seemed to have gone when Youri Djorkaeff headed wide from close range after Jay-Jay Okocha's cross. Then Villa came desperately close to making it 3-1 when their substitute, Peter Whittingham, sent Thomas Hitzlsperger through and Jussi Jaaskelainen had to make an excellent save.

Bolton went up to the other end where anothersubstitute, Stelios Giannakopoulos, wriggled into space on the by-line and put over a cross which Kevin Davies hit on the volley and into the corner of the net. In extra time, a delicate header from Giannakopoulos almost crept in for an unlikely winner, but this was a game from which Villa deserved something.

The fortunes of these clubs has diverged sharply since Bolton put five goals past Villa in one leg of the Carling Cup semi-final, with five defeats in six matches taking Bolton to the fringe of the relegation dogfight and Villa dreaming of European football.

David O'Leary's side took the lead after 18 minutes when Gareth Barry, whose cultured left foot provided several of the game's highlights, put over a perfect cross for the towering Peter Crouch, in for the injured leading scorer, Juan Pablo Angel. Crouch was marked by Simon Charlton, a full head shorter, on the far post. Not surprisingly, Crouch won the contest and scored with what amounted to a free header.

Bolton were perked up by the introduction of Nicky Hunt on the right at half-time and three minutes after the break they were level. There was a strong element of luck in the goal, Okocha blocking Ulises de la Cruz's attempt at a clearance and the ball falling kindly for Henrik Pedersen, who drilled his shot straight through Sorensen.

That parity lasted only five minutes, until Barry produced another wonderful ball, this time to send Lee Hendrie through the middle. The midfielder had not scored for 13 months, but his chip over the advancing Jaaskelainen was confidence itself.

Crouch was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card when he chopped down Hunt the next time the ball came into the Bolton area and Djorkaeff volleyed over the bar at the other end before a mediocre game burst into life in the last few minutes.

"It all hinged on 30 seconds," said Sam Allardyce, whose instant calculations revealed that Bolton are still not quite clear of the lingering threat of relegation.

"I'm pleased that we've got a very valuable point and that we've come back twice in a game in the Premiership," he said, adding that a win at Wolves tomorrow will finally banish any fears.

O'Leary was frustrated that his side did not dictate the style of the game. "We are a footballing team, and we didn't do enough of that today," he said.

Bolton Wanderers 2
Pedersen 48, Davies 86

Aston Villa 2
Crouch 18, Hendrie 53

Half-time 0-1 Attendance: 26,374

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