Mellberg stops rot as Villa make point with show of pride

Birmingham City 0 Aston Villa 0
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Television's programme planners knew what they were doing when they gave this one a wide berth - it's always best to leave heated neighbourhood disputes to be sorted out away from prying outside eyes.

A curious national audience would soon have diverted its sights away from a game that was at best mediocre and, in its lower moments, downright ugly. "I'm going home for a roast dinner now and it will be more enjoyable than that," the Birmingham City manager, Steve Bruce, said after the grimmest of goalless draws.

After their second successive 0-0 draw - and what a contrast this was to the terrific midweek taming of Chelsea - Birmingham could at least reflect on a return to fourth place, the remarkable record of seven clean sheets in nine Premiership games, and that second-city bragging rights remain theirs.

Much of the pride, though, belonged to Villa. Many of their fans would not have been able to remember what it was like approaching this fixture as underdogs, yet their side were barely discomforted in taking a small step towards righting their atrocious away record.

Except for a well saved early shot from Stephen Clemence and a penalty appeal following Mark Delaney's tangle with Mikael Forssell, they survived without alarm, thanks in no small part to the excellence of the central defenders Olof Mellberg and Ronny Johnsen. In short, they answered the call of their manager, David O'Leary, to show some backbone.

There was a feeling that, if Birmingham played well, they would have the intensity and desire to make it count. But Villadisplayed more patience and composure, admirably blunting the threat of Forssell and Christophe Dugarry and reducing the impact of the returning Robbie Savage - fit to play but perhaps not fit for this hurly-burly - to that of occasional dispenser of reckless tackles. The midfielder picked up his obligatory yellow card for clattering ridiculously into Delaney and might have seen the other one when he appeared to jump in two-footed on Johnsen.

Both managers agreed the referee, Mike Riley, was excellent, although Gavin McCann was lucky not to be booked for taking his own retribution on David Dunn when the England Under-21 international kept the ball in play and denied Lee Hendrie treatment.

Hendrie had his own spat with Clemence and both were booked shortly before the Villa midfielder limped off with a calf injury that could keep him out for three weeks. It says much that such incidents provided the main talking-points. No one could recall goal threats worthy of the name. Juan Pablo Angel got in a couple of token headers, the substitute Peter Whittingham was denied by a brilliant challenge by Savage and Damien Johnson and, at the other end, Forssell headed wide in a brief post-interval improvement. That was about it. This wasn't just Second City. It was second rate.

Birmingham (4-4-2): Bennett 4; Johnson 5 (Tebily, 80), Cunningham 6, Upson 6, Clapham 6; Dunn 5, Savage 4, Clemence 5, Lazaridis 5 (Cissé, 79); Dugarry 4 (Morrison, 79), Forssell 4. Substitutes not used: Vaesen, Hughes.

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Sorensen 5; Delaney 5, Mellberg 7, Johnsen 6, Samuel 5; De La Cruz 5, McCann 5, Hendrie 5 (Whittingham 5, 41), Barry 5, Vassell 5; Angel 5. Substitutes not used: Dublin, Postma, Allback, Kinsella.

Referee: M Riley (Leeds) 7.

Booked: Birmingham Clemence, Savage; Aston Villa Hendrie.

Man of the match: Mellberg.

Attendance: 29,546.