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Derby-day stalemate lifts Villa out of drop zone

with a smoke bomb, a thong-wearing streaker and a huge police presence, yesterday's Birmingham derby was as eventful off the pitch as on it.

When the acrid fumes had cleared, Aston Villa had greater cause for satisfaction, having recovered from Roger Johnson's 49th-minute opener for Birmingham to equalise through James Collins after 73 minutes and so avoid a repeat of last month's League Cup defeat at St Andrew's.

The bigger picture shows that Villa have taken 15 points out of 51 under Gerard Houllier.

However, the second Premier League stalemate between the sides this season lifted them out of the bottom three and kept them within a point of 16th-placed Birmingham, who are still a some way off signing Ireland striker Robbie Keane, according to manager Alex McLeish.

Given that only Wolves have a worse away record, Villa could even claim, especially after hitting the crossbar three times and at last mustering some fighting spirit, that this was a moral victory of sorts.


But the identity of the two scorers, who are both central defenders, underlined a weakness that continues to blight the neighbours' efforts to climb away from the relegation zone.

Birmingham last savoured a goal from a striker nine games ago, when Cameron Jerome pounced at Stoke in November. Villa's front two yesterday, Gabriel Agbonlahor and the recalled John Carew, have both failed to score in the league all season.

Birmingham's opener was a scrappy affair from Villa's perspective. When Collins fouled Alexander Hleb outside the penalty area, loan signing David Bentley rolled the free-kick short for Craig Gardner.

The former Villa man's drive was wayward, but David Murphy flicked it into the danger zone and the ball deflected off Kyle Walker before Johnson reacted sharply to hook it past Brad Friedel from 10 yards.

Villa's equaliser had its origins in a weak kick by Birmingham goalkeeper Ben Foster after a needless back-pass by Liam Ridgewell.

Dubliner Keith Fahey and Gardner both had chances to clear the ball before Marc Albrighton crossed it and Collins' volley was deflected past Foster by Ridgewell.

There was no repetition of the violent disorder which marred last month's meeting, but the attendance, just over 22,000, was the second lowest at St Andrew's this season and their worst derby turnout in the Premier League .

Irish Independent