- Matchday centre
- Match reports
- 05 October 2009 22:39
- Posted by Peter Ferguson
Trust Craig Bellamy. Mark Hughes does. And just as this clash of the Champions League hopefuls threatened to embarrass the Blues boss, his favourite footballing son came to the rescue.
It was probably written in the stars that Richard Dunne, nine years at City then abruptly surplus to requirements, should conjure a majestic goal as well as a stellar performance for his new side.
The former Blues skipper's header after a quarter of an hour brought no joyous celebration out of respect to supporters who named him player of the year four seasons in succession.
They in turn joined in the Villa Park applause near the end of a nerve-tingling game when Dunne was named man of the match: "Once a Blue, Always a Blue" was the song that rang around the arena.
But there was no greater cheer from the travelling army than that which greeted Bellamy's second-half leveller, a stunning finish with all the venom of those that rocked Arsenal and Manchester United.
The Wales skipper's fourth goal of the season, and 99th of his League career, ensured there was no fairytale end to Dunney's mighty match and prevented a second damaging defeat of the campaign.
As it was, Blues' first draw of the season saw them clamber back up to fourth place in the table, level on points and goal difference with Tottenham and still nursing that vital game in hand.
But on a night when City's defending at set pieces once again came up short under scrutiny, Bellamy's desire and a telling substitution in the shape of Stevie Ireland were key factors.
And on a night when Fabio Capello chose to survey seven of his England squad, Gareth Barry's vilification by Villa fans surely contributed to a rare below-par display by the midfielder.
He stuck at it, stone faced as gallons of vitriol splashed around him, but England's coach, who pencils Barry into his team almost automatically, will not have seen so many stray passes before.
City themselves were feisty but not at their best. They were fortunate not to fall behind early on - a less alert goalkeeper than Shay Given might have been beaten by Gaby Agbonlahor's near-post effort. A less resourceful one might not have reacted swiftly enough to get a boot in the way.
But while City looked impressive in the build-up, and threatened down Villa's right flank with the pace and verve of Bellamy and raiding Wayne Bridge, there was a determination about Villa.
A full house repeatedly voiced its seething resentment at Barry, some waving fake £50 notes bearing the Blues midfielder's image and many more booing if their former idol was in possession.
Barry's hapless involvement as Dunne climbed above him to cash in for his goal seemed to serve only to fuel their abuse, and the atmosphere lifted Villa to play some of their best football.
Ashley Young was hoping for a penalty when he went down with Pablo Zabaleta in close attendance. Referee Dean was having none of it, correctly deciding the England youngster had slipped.
Zabaleta got in the tackles that have helped earn him a call-up for Argentina, but it was Nigel de Jong who bit deepest in a first half that sometimes saw the temperature temporarily soar.
The Dutchman was given the benefit of the doubt with a sliding tackle on Dunne that had his former team-mate wagging a finger in his direction and looking meaningfully towards Mr Dean.
But when De Jong took out Young just outside the area with a two-footed scythe that must rank as the most agricultural in his manual, the referee was reaching for a card before Young hit the deck.
Stilian Petrov had already seen the game's first yellow. Villa's skipper took out Shaun Wright-Phillips in primitive fashion as the little winger - later booked himself for fouling Stephen Warnock - teased him on the touchline.
De Jong lasted only until the 49th minute when his defensive qualities were sacrificed for the return of the more attack-minded Stevie Ireland as manager Hughes decided on affirmative action.
It had become clear that Dunney, inevitably not putting a foot wrong in this first game against his old club, but also James Collins - not to mention Brad Friedel - would take some beating.
City had possession aplenty, but when Adebayor did threaten to equalise five minutes before the break, his header from Barry's free kick was tipped over the bar by Friedel.
Worse still, there was always the chance of Villa nicking another. Bridge had to rescue Joleon Lescott after the boyhood Villa fan was caught out by eager James Milner on the edge of the area.
And incredibly, Dunney came up with another thumping header from a 58th-minute corner, again getting the best of Barry but this time directing the ball a foot wide of the far post.
However, Ireland's introduction soon paid dividends for Hughes: it was the returning midfielder's slide-rule pass that allowed Adebayor to pull back the ball for Bellamy's unerring equaliser.
Bellamy, a dynamic bundle of boundless energy, was still fizzing as the game slipped into time added on, but his Speedy Gonzales slalom down the left saw his super cross elude everybody.