Match report: Villa 0-0 Chelsea
Lightning very nearly struck twice for Villa, who put on a sparkling display against the Barclays Premier League champions.
Exactly a year on from a stunning 2-1 home victory over Chelsea, the boys in claret and blue pushed Carlo Ancelotti's side to the limit again in a frenetic early-evening clash.
Their performance was both bold and disciplined as hosts attacked with poise and endeavour while remaining astute defensively to restrict the west Londoners.
While manager Gerard Houllier was mindful of the wealth of attacking talent at Chelsea's disposal going into this game, he insisted his team would bring their own qualities to the table.
At that point the Frenchman had probably not anticipated that he would be forced into three changes in his starting XI.
But the Villa chief has insisted from day one that every member of the squad is vital and two of his replacements - John Carew and Stephen Ireland - were intent on seizing their opportunities.
The late withdrawals of Emile Heskey, Marc Albrighton and Luke Young through injury presented Carew, Ireland and Habib Beye with the chance to showcase their abilities in Houllier's first home league game since taking the helm.
Where better than to make your mark than against last season's double winners?
Chelsea are undoubtedly the country's form team but it was Villa who made a blistering start.
Ireland and Carew, eager to stake a claim for regular starting berths, both went close in a hectic first five minutes.
A move started by skipper Stiliyan Petrov presented Ireland with a golden opportunity to collect his first goal since joining from Manchester City in August.
The Bulgarian picked out Stewart Downing on the right hand side and the winger, fresh from his return to the England fold, found Ireland in space just inside the Chelsea box but the midfielder slotted his effort wide of Petr Cech's far post.
Cech then had to be alert to palm Carew's low effort wide of the post after Stephen Warnock won possession with a crunching tackle which sent the Norwegian clear.
While proceedings quietened somewhat after Villa's initial opening flurry, the hosts will have been delighted with the way they contained Chelsea.
The best the Blues could manage was Michael Essien's tame 25-yard attempt which Brad Friedel held comfortably.
Much had been made of an injury crisis in defence for Chelsea - but they were thankful that Branislav Ivanovic was on hand to thwart two Villa attempts.
Firstly, he robbed Carew of possession just as the giant forward looked set to pull the trigger from close range.
And the Serb's brave sliding block to deny Ireland ensured the scores were level at the break.
Indeed, Villa's only complaint from a vibrant first-half was that they did not have a goal to show for their efforts.
It was investable that a side of Chelsea's quality would return fire after the home team's early dominance and so it proved after the break.
While there was no Didier Drogba, who was absent after picking up a fever, Villa still had Nicolas Anelka to contend with.
The France forward received possession on the left hand side and went for goal only to see his stinging drive blocked by the legs of Friedel.
Although a stalemate seemed the fairest and most likely outcome, the woodwork had a huge bearing in the closing stages.
Ivanovic met Florent Malouda's oustwinging corner and crashed a header off the near post from eight yards.
Ciaran Clark - an early substitute for the injured Richard Dunne - returned the compliment when his glancing header found the inside of the post from Ashley Young's teasing left-wing cross.
Then hearts were in claret and blue mouths as Anelka saw his header bounce up off the turf onto Friedel's cross bar.
Villa had a chance of their own to win it in injury time but Nigel Reo-Coker couldn't find the target when presented with a one-on-one against Cech.
VILLA: Friedel; Beye, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Downing, Reo-Coker, Petrov, A Young; Ireland; Carew. Subs: Cuellar, Bannan, Sidwell (for Ireland, 84), Guzan, Delfouneso (for Carew, 73), Clark (for Dunne 13), Lichaj.
CHELSEA: Cech, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Obi, Essien, Malouda, Kakuta, Anelka. Subs: Turnbull, Bosingwa (for Ferreira, 76), Zhirkov (for Kakuta, HT), Bruma, Mellis, Borini, McEachran (for Ramires, 76).
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