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Villa endure Wigan frustration

Aston Villa were left lamenting their failure to convert a string of chances after wasting the opportunity to boost their Champions League ambitions in a goalless draw with Wigan.

England striker Gabriel Agbonlahor in particular was thwarted by some resolute Wigan defending as Martin O’Neill’s team missed out on moving up to second-place in the Premier League table at Villa Park here Saturday.

Although the result extended Villa’s unbeaten league run to 12 games, it was nevertheless a case of two points dropped for the home side after they hit the post twice and threatened throughout the second-half.

Villa named an unchanged line-up from the one that won 1-0 against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Tuesday, although Norway striker John Carew returned to the bench after a two-month absence.

Wigan were without Egyptian forward Amr Zaki, sidelined by a thigh injury.

Having recorded their most convincing victory of the season by winning 4-0 at Wigan’s JJB Stadium home in October, Villa created enough chances to produce a similar scoreline.

In front of a crowd of 41,766, Villa were imagining a repeat when they started brightly with Wigan barely touching the ball in the opening exchanges.

As Villa poured forward Craig Gardner just failed to reach Agbonlahor’s ball across the box, former Wigan striker Emile Heskey and Curtis Davies both went close from corners.

Agbonlahor, Villa’s top scorer, forced Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland to tip his header over at full stretch and the speedy striker was then penalised from the subsequent corner for a foul on Emerson Boyce as his header was scrambled off the line.

It took Wigan until just before the half hour mark to create their first opportunity, but when it came it was the move of the match and forced Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel into a smart save.

Mario Melchiot’s ball down the right was cleverly stepped over by Paul Scharner, allowing Daniel de Ridder to fire a low shot, which was blocked by Friedel’s legs.

It another fine save from Friedel to keep the scores level when Maynor Figuera was allowed a free header from Michael Brown’s cross.

After the interval, Zat Knight thought he had scored when his header from a Gareth Barry free-kick came back off the post and was hacked away with Agbonlahor and Davies ready to pounce.

Villa came even closer midway through the second period only for Agbonlahor’s strike to be cleared onto the post by Bramble before Heskey’s follow up effort was blocked.

Carew’s introduction around the hour mark piled further pressure on the visitors.

Villa looked to have been given a helping hand from referee Rob Styles when he controversially ruled that Melchiot had passed back to his goalkeeper.

An intelligent indirect free kick from Bulgarian midfielder Stiliyan Petrov set up a shooting chance for Carew, but his strike was blocked on the line by Scharner, as was Luke Young’s follow up.

Villa continued to keep Wigan penned inside their own penalty box with a timely block on Agbonlahor from Figueroa, who had earlier survived a penalty shout for handball.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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