Bristol City 1 Aston Villa 1 - Report and pictures
Villa might have missed out on the perfect week, yet it is hard to argue this result was not a step in the right direction.
It had been a long time since Villa last earned anything on their travels after conceding first - the best part of two years to be exact and a 1-1 draw at Newcastle when Remi Garde still prowled the touchline.
That is precisely what they managed at Ashton Gate last night, as Josh Onomah’s first senior career goal cancelled out Jamie Paterson’s opener for the hosts to rescue a point.
Boss Steve Bruce has talked extensively about the need for his team’s mentality to improve and they showed impressive resolve to battle back on a balmy evening in Bristol.
It was far from the perfect performance and a return of five points from the opening five games is nothing other than underwhelming.
But with this first away point of the campaign coming quick on the heels of back-to-back four-goal hauls, there is at least a little more reason for optimism than a week ago.
Having made wholesale changes for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup win over Wigan, Bruce reverted to a line-up more familiar to the one which had defeated Norwich 4-2 last Saturday.
There was however a notable change in shape with Chris Samba replacing the injured Alan Hutton and Villa reverting to a three-man defence for the first time this season.
In addition to Paterson, City’s starting XI featured centre-back Nathan Baker following his summer move south to Ashton Gate.
Keinan Davis had won plaudits for his hold-up play during last week’s win over Norwich and the teenager was quickly into the action, bringing down a long ball and beginning a move which ended with Andre Green bringing the first save of the game out of Robins keeper Frank Fielding.
That was the only serious work Fielding would be forced into during an opening half-hour in which the hosts gradually began to dominate possession, though they found a Villa team content to sit deep an impossible nut to crack.
Paterson sent a shot from distance straight at Villa keeper Sam Johnstone, whose only serious work of the half was blocking a close range Famara Diedhiou shot after John Terry had failed to make a clean connection on a clearing header.
Concerned at the rising pressure and his team’s sloppiness with the ball, Bruce nevertheless quickly ditched the three at the back experiment, with Chester moving across to right-back.
It was a switch which appeared to work as Villa finished the half on top.
Fielding was alert to race out and block from Ahmed Elmohamady at the far post after the wideman had arrived to meet Conor Hourihane’s pass.
Hourihane then saw a shot blocked, before Fielding was called into action again by Elmohamady, this time parrying a low cross the Egyptian had fired in the direction of Davis at the far post.
A half-time change saw James Bree replace Samba and Villa were quickly on the front foot, Onomah collecting a return pass from Davis before firing a shot straight at Fielding from a tight angle.
Hourihane’s audacious 40-yard attempt, which fell well wide of the post, was a sign of Villa’s increasing confidence.
Yet on the hour mark they fell behind, as the hosts broke the deadlock in scrappy fashion.
A dangerous situation looked to have been diffused when Taylor blocked Pack’s low free-kick, after Terry had felled Bobby Reid on the edge of the box.
But Villa failed to clear and the ball eventually found its way to Paterson, who slammed home from eight yards out.
The visitors might have been entitled to feel a little unfortunate at being behind but just five minutes caught a big break to draw level.
The Robins defence stood off Onomah when the loose ball ran into his path 25 yards out and could then only watch as the 20-year-old’s shot deflected off Pack and looped over Fielding.
Onomah celebrated his first senior career goal in front of the 3,000-strong travelling support, who just minutes later let out a collective anguished gasp when Hourihane failed to make a clean connection on Elmohamady’s cross from ten yards out.
Both teams were now out to win it and Reid had a shot deflected wide, while Joe Bryan headed straight at Johnstone.
Right-back Eros Pisano came within inches of restoring the home side’s advantage with a mis-hit cross which looped over Johnstone and came back off the post. The Villa keeper was then needed to punch away a looping Baker header which threatened to drop under the bar.
Bruce introduced Scott Hogan and Birkir Bjarnason to add fresh legs to Villa’s attack and the latter drilled a long range shot narrowly wide of the post. But there was to be no winner.
Bristol C (4-4-2): Fielding, Pisano, Wright ©, Baker, Bryan, Brownhill, Smith, Pack (Eliason 86), Paterson (O’Dowda 86), Diedhiou, Reid Subs not used: Flint, Woodrow, Magnusson, O’Neil, Lucic (gk).
Villa (3-5-2): Chester, Terry, Samba (Bree HT), Elmohamady, Onomah, Whelan, Hourihane, Taylor, Green (Bjarnason 79), Davis (Hogan 79) Subs not used: Lansbury, Agbonlahor, Adomah, Steer (gk).