Villa vexed as scattergun approach misses target

Aston Villa 0 Wigan Athletic 0

Before this, his 100th League game as Aston Villa manager, Martin O'Neill had again deprecated his prospects of prolonging what has, to all intents and purposes, begun to resemble an authentic title challenge. Villa, he claimed, were like a wasp, merely an irritant to the established hegemony. During a sterile first half, it seemed as though he might even have meant it. But his players' vexation over their subsequent failure to take three points from a frenzied fusillade itself suggested a growing sense of entitlement.

Perhaps O'Neill should instead have compared his team to a butterfly, surreptitiously emerging from its chrysalis. Not that this is an exquisite team. Their brusque approach, and a bitter wind, meant this was no place for faint hearts. And that suited Wigan just fine. For both sides, the impasse reflected an identity crisis of a very wholesome type – one condensed by the home debut of Emile Heskey, so recently at Wigan himself.

Would Villa's players betray some incipient vertigo? How would Wigan cope with the sudden loss of Heskey and Wilson Palacios to wealthier rivals? Unbeaten in 11 League games, Villa began with a corresponding spring in their step, Gareth Barry setting the rhythm in a fashion that can only have warmed the spirits of Fabio Capello as he shivered in the stand.

But for all their power and pace, Villa could also have done with greater precision against the five-strong midfield Steve Bruce had deployed in the absence of the injured Amr Zaki.

Indeed, Wigan had the best chance of the first half in its final moments. Heskey's clearance was swept back into the box where Maynor Figueroa forced a terrific save from Brad Friedel. And the Villa keeper had already excelled in thwarting Daniel De Ridder after a deft feint from Paul Scharner.

Perhaps O'Neill was wary of a "crazy" second half of the type that provoked Rafael Benitez into his latest oddball mutterings against the same opposition, during the week. Certainly his men emerged suffused with ambition. They had a plausible case for a penalty when Figueroa all but caught the ball as he tumbled in the area, while a minute later Zat Knight headed another of Barry's delectable free-kicks on to a post.

O'Neill, sensing that Wigan's ramparts were quivering, sent on an extra battering ram in John Carew – making his first appearance since November. And after that things really did go crazy. Figueroa (once via a post) and then Scharner each cleared the ball off the line twice. Then Gabriel Agbonlahor pirouetted inside the box, only for his drive to be deflected over by Figueroa. "To be fair, we rode our luck," Bruce said. "We were out on our feet, after taking on Liverpool on Wednesday. And as the game went on, we had to show what we are about. I can't remember being under the cosh like that, and getting away with it."

He admitted his dismay at finding himself rebuilding his team in January. He is negotiating the arrival of Charles N'Zogbia from Newcastle, and is relieved that Antonio Valencia, courted by Real Madrid, intends to stay until the summer at least.

O'Neill put the experience in the perspective of a "relentless" schedule. "We're a long way from being the finished article," he said. "We're not as cohesive as Manchester United but we're in there, and we don't give up."

Perhaps O'Neill will alternate Carew and Heskey once the suspended Ashley Young restores an incisive edge. Villa have already absorbed a heavy schedule, and options like these are needed if you want to cement your place in the elite. However discreetly.

Attendance: 41,766

Referee: Rob Styles

Man of the match: Figueroa

Match rating: 7/10

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines