Gary Lineker may have been in a London television studio rather than at Villa Park but he summed up Saturday evening's game pithily enough: "Good first 10 minutes, good last 10 minutes and a lot of dross in between." The managers of the two teams concerned were naturally less dismissive, for each had reason to be pleased with a just outcome.
Gérard Houllier has now overseen four games since returning to English football, in which Aston Villa have been beaten only at Tottenham, and narrowly there. Taking a point against the champions – "Double winners," he corrected his questioner – was all the more satisfactory given he lost three players on the morning of the game. Chelsea's day, by contrast, had begun much better when Manchester United snatched a draw from the jaws of victory at home to West Bromwich Albion, a team Carlo Ancelotti's side beat 6-0 in August.
Ancelotti will have felt some apprehension about visiting a ground where Chelsea have been less successful than any other in the Roman Abramovich era and he too was missing personnel in Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Alex, Salomon Kalou Yossi Benayoun and Daniel Sturridge. The loss of Alex, the big Brazilian central defender, was less keenly felt than the other quintet, since the equally-powerful Branislav Ivanovic was outstanding alongside John Terry, whether throwing himself in the way of shots at one end of heading against a post at the other.
After an uncertain beginning by the champions, sorry, Double winners , in which Stephen Ireland should have scored and John Carew could have, it was in going forward that Chelsea's absentees were most missed. Nicolas Anelka is more subtle but less menacing than Drogba, as he emphasised by wasting Ashley Cole's perfect cross in the eventful last 10 minutes to which Lineker referred. He would have looked doubly silly had Ciaran Clark or Nigel Reo-Coker been closer than clipping a post or chipping wide respectively on either side of that effort. Gaël Kakuta, whose controversial acquisition from Lens cost Chelsea much trouble, did not look worthy of the fuss on Saturday and it was significant they improved greatly after Yuri Zhirkov replaced him at half-time.
Zhirkov, Kalou and Sturridge will all provide a better option to fill one of the wide positions tomorrow as Chelsea take on Spartak Moscow in the Champions League tomorrow. Ancelotti wants to rest Michael Essien and, although Alex will be available, Terry will tell the manager he wants to play on the artificial pitch despite a bad back and bad memories of the Luzhniki Stadium, where his missed penalty in 2008 cost Chelsea a first European Cup.
"I feel as though I have got that out of my system now," he said. "I just really want to win this competition." Terry pulled out of England's game last week with Montenegro and was forced to sit and watch a grimmer goalless draw than Saturday's. "With England we need to start getting back to winning ways and re-sort the confidence because I think the confidence is missing," he said.
Possession Aston Villa 47% Chelsea 53%. Shots on target Aston Villa 5 Chelsea 6. Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Att 40,122. Man of the match Ivanovic. Match rating 6/10Reuse content