Fast-acting Heskey catches Burnley cold

Burnley 1 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Football

Stewart Downing stepped off the bench for his long-delayed debut but it was the second of Martin O'Neill's substitutes, Emile Heskey, who popped up to salvage a point for Aston Villa and take the shine off another stylish performance from Burnley.

Owen Coyle's team, whose reputation for elegant football did not suffer even on a filthy afternoon of driving rain, were close to a sixth home win from seven when Heskey stooped to nod home James Milner's cross.

The England striker, for all the qualities that continue to earn him admirers at the highest level, still cannot improve on his modest strike rate. This was his first goal of the season, although at least it took him only six minutes to score it after replacing Luke Young with 10 minutes remaining.

Burnley had been under increasing pressure as Villa, ordinary in the first half, looked for a way to cancel out the Steven Caldwell header that had given Burnley the lead after nine minutes.

Coyle, looking for positives, suggested it might be an important point as Burnley seek to establish themselves in the Premier League but wished his side had taken more of their chances, most of which stemmed from Robbie Blake's excellent work in the playmaker role.

Steven Fletcher and Andre Bikey (twice) might have increased their lead before half-time. Later, two fine saves from Brad Friedel, denying Blake and then substitute Kevin McDonald, kept Villa in it.

"On another day we might have had more goals," Coyle said. "But Friedel was outstanding and in the end we have paid for not dealing with a cross properly.

"But if a couple of years ago you had said that we'd be in a position to be disappointed about only drawing with Aston Villa we would have taken it. They are a quality side who will be competing for a top-four finish."

If blame could be levelled at anyone it might be Brian Jensen, the Burnley goalkeeper, whose decision to punch away a cross allowed Milner to play the ball back in as the home defenders moved away from their goal, giving Heskey an unchallenged header.

Downing, who has been out of action since suffering a broken foot in his last action for Middlesbrough in May, played the final 20 minutes, although O'Neill believes it will be Christmas before Villa begin to see the best of his £12 million signing. "He is a very decent player and it was pleasing to see him on the field but he is a distance away from match fitness," he said.

Richard Dunne took his place in Villa's defence despite suggestions he would miss the game after the Republic of Ireland's controversial World Cup elimination by France in midweek. "There was never a question of his not wanting to play," O'Neill said.

Attendance: 21,178

Referee: Howard Webb

Man of the match: Blake

Match rating: 7/10