Speed leads Bolton's drive into Europe

Aston Villa 1 - Bolton 1
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The Independent Football

Gary Speed scored his first goal for Bolton to spare the blushes of Fernando Hierro and earn a point for Sam Allardyce's side.

Gary Speed scored his first goal for Bolton to spare the blushes of Fernando Hierro and earn a point for Sam Allardyce's side.

Hierro had scored a spectacular headed own goal to give Villa hopes of securing the victory they needed to press their claims for a UEFA Cup spot.

But former Wales international Speed, who moved to the Reebok Stadium from Newcastle last summer, levelled matters after the break.

Villa produced a far better performance in terms of purpose and creativity than in the tame goalless draw against Charlton in midweek.

Darius Vassell looked sharp up front while Gareth Barry and Jlloyd Samuel linked up well down the left flank.

And at the back Martin Laursen - given little chance by David O'Leary of playing on Friday because of his knee problem - was a tower of strength in dealing with Bolton's aerial threat.

But Bolton were indebted to goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen for collecting a precious point although their hopes of obtaining a Champions League spot are now fading.

El-Hadji Diouf produced most of their moments of danger and an impending court case after being charged with disorderly conduct did not appear to affect his performance although he was booed throughout by the Villa fans.

Bolton made a promising start and a deep cross by Ricardo Gardner picked out Stelios Giannakopoulos in space on the far side of the Villa penalty area.

He lobbed the ball back across goal but the lack of pace in the centre meant Kevin Davies' header was easily dealt with by keeper Thomas Sorensen.

Diouf was booed every time he touched the ball but a cross from the striker picked out Speed, whose header flew over Sorensen's crossbar.

The game was an open affair in the early stages and Giannakopoulos could have put Bolton ahead after 14 minutes.

Jay-Jay Okocha's hard-driven cross was met by the midfielder but he sent his header flashing across the face of goal.

Villa started to come more into the game and Martin Laursen ventured forward to try his luck from 30 yards but his shot was straight at Jaaskelainen, who held on comfortably.

Juan Pablo Angel sparked into life after 24 minutes when his header from a Ulises de la Cruz cross was turned around the post by Jaaskelainen - and from the resulting corner the home side went ahead.

Nolberto Solano sent over a teasing centre and Hierro only succeeded in heading the ball into his own net.

A fine pass over the Bolton defence from the impressive Barry almost played in Vassell but his first touch took him away from goal and the opportunity was lost.

Vassell had a golden opportunity to double Villa's lead in the 32nd minute after breaking completely clear of the Bolton defence.

The England striker had time to steady himself but his final shot was tentative and Jaaskelainen was able to save with his body.

Villa were now starting to get on top and Jaaskelainen tipped a dipping effort from Samuel around the post in first half injury-time.

Hierro was replaced at half-time by Ivan Campo and shortly afterwards Nicky Hunt made way for Radhi Jaidi.

Villa started the second period in a positive mood and Jaaskelainen made a fine save to prevent them from doubling their lead.

Vassell's lob over the Bolton defence played in Steven Davis but the Northern Ireland midfielder's fierce shot was beat away by Jaaskelainen at the expense of a corner.

This proved to be costly as four minutes later Speed scored his first Bolton goal. Diouf was the creator with some trickery on the right flank before delivering a cross which Speed rose to head past Sorensen.

Campo was yellow-carded for bringing down Davis as Villa tried to regain the initiative and Jaaskelainen pulled off another superb save to finger-tip away an Angel header from Barry's centre.

The Finland international again excelled himself to block a Davis effort after he had made a pacy run into the Bolton area.