Aston Villa demonstrate spirit to fight back and earn draw vs. Leicester City
The Premier League's top and bottom clubs drew 1-1 on Saturday evening, but what might be considered a precious point for struggling Aston Villa will ultimately prove to be less valuable. At this stage of the season and in such a dire situation, Remi Garde's team needs points plural in order to clamber out of the relegation zone. A stirring second-half comeback saw substitute Rudy Gestede equalise, but while Villa pushed hard for a winner, that final touch of class and quality eluded them again.
That wasn't all that eluded Villa either. The hosts were denied a second-half penalty when Robert Huth's elbow left Libor Kozak prone on the turf. The Leicester defender should have been punished with a red card and Villa awarded a penalty, and the outcome of the match might have been different had referee Roger East spotted the obvious offence.
East's eyesight had been rather sharper in the first half when, minutes after Shinji Okazaki had given the visitors the lead, he judged that Aly Cissokho had deliberately intended to block Riyad Mahrez's shot with his hands. Mahrez's penalty was saved by Mark Bunn, continuing to impress as Villa's goalkeeper.
Still, Villa are at least pulling together and putting up some resistance to relegation, and after taking four points from the past two league games it's clear Garde has succeeded in getting a misfiring team to respond. If these performances can continue over the remaining months of the campaign, Villa will exit the Premier League with a certain amount of pride intact.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Mark Bunn, 8 -- Got away with a desperate tackle on Jamie Vardy 15 minutes in -- he was booked for the foul -- but made a superb save to claw the striker's lob off the line in the build-up to the opening goal. Saved Mahrez's penalty, too, and continues to look a safer pair of hands than Brad Guzan.
DF Leandro Bacuna, 7 -- A difficult challenge, up against former Villa man Marc Albrighton, and was stretched in the first half. Pushed forward in the second, taking up several good positions and shot straight at Kasper Schmeichel from the edge of the box.
DF Jores Okore, 7 -- Lost Vardy for the opening goal but grew into the game. Did well to outpace the striker to prevent a chance in the second half and made a crucial interception late on to cut out a Christian Fuchs cross.
DF Joleon Lescott, 6 -- Another solid performance from Lescott, who has stepped up his game since being given the captaincy. Amid rumours of a move to LA Galaxy, surely Villa need to keep him for the rest of the season.
DF Aly Cissokho, 7 -- Conceded the penalty but might consider himself unlucky after blocking Mahrez's fierce shot. Defended well, and pushed on in the second half, drawing a decent save from Schmeichel with a long-range hit.
MF Jordan Veretout, 6 -- Not his best game. The odd pass of quality aside, Veretout seemed uncomfortable playing on the right of midfield instead of a more central role.
MF Ashley Westwood, 6 -- Noticeably improved in the second half as his passing was quicker and more incisive.
MF Idrissa Gueye, 6 -- A combative display from Gueye, who held his own against Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante. If he had a final ball or a shot in his skill set he'd be an excellent box-to-box midfielder.
MF Carles Gil, 5 -- Was unable to really hurt the Leicester defence, who kept the Spaniard very quiet. Substituted just after the hour mark.
FW Jordan Ayew, 7 -- Subdued for much of the game, Ayew sparked into life as an attacking force when he switched from the left to the right for the final 30 minutes. Shame not one scoring chance fell to him.
FW Libor Kozak, 6 -- A second successive start after two years in the wilderness but Kozak will rue missed opportunities. Clean through in the first half, he shot straight at Schmeichel at the near post and then flicked a late chance over the bar. However, deserved a penalty when Huth slammed an elbow into his face.
FW Rudy Gestede, 6 -- On for Gil and immediately made a nuisance of himself and scored Villa's equaliser, via a deflection off Wes Morgan, after battling for possession with Huth.
MF Scott Sinclair, NR -- On for Ayew on 90 minutes, a pointless substitution made in the final seconds of the match.
Kevin Hughes covered Premier League football at Match magazine and was later deputy editor of Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @KevHughesie.