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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home