Aston Villa 0-0 Chelsea

Darren Steward reports

Aston Villa and Chelsea battled to a keenly-contested 0-0 draw on Saturday at Villa Park - their first since the inception of the Premiership, but Villains manager John Gregory will be happier with the outcome than Gianluca Vialli.

Funny old game football, isn't it? Two months ago Gregory bore the brunt of a good deal of criticism and pressure. But after six wins in eight games, all of those unbeaten, the outspoken Villa supremo does seem to be out of the woods for now.

Conversely, Vialli has been behaving like a man under pressure, with broadsides at his rivals. The insecure often use attack as a defence.

Blues strikers George Weah and Chris Sutton started a Premiership game in partnership for the first time as the visitors sought a fifth successive league victory against Aston Villa.

The opening period was poor with defences largely on top. Weah showed us a glimmer of sublime skill, flicking the ball over a dumbfounded Ugo Ehiogu, only to drive his effort into the side-netting.

Chelsea had a let-off in the 17th minute after goalkeeper Ed de Goey was almost guilty of a heart-stopping error. Defender Emerson Thome played the ball back to the Dutch keeper who lost his concentration as the ball slipped under his foot. Television replays showed that at least half of the ball had crossed the line but de Goey managed to scramble it clear as Carbone came in to challenge.

The Liberian 33-year-old then took a difficult ball down, turned Ehiogu again and shaved the post with a low, raking drive.

Chelsea youngster Jon Harley obviously felt inspired in front of the Milan striker's midst - he tickled the crossbar with an angled 35-yard lob, and then made a brilliant goal-line clearance from Ehiogu at the other end.

The rattled de Goey punched a centre straight to Merson on the edge of the area and his low dink was deflected by Thome to Carbone who was unmarked five yards out. A goal seemed written in stone for the Italian but he scuffed his shot across goal and wide of the far post.

The home side came close to opening the scoring in the second minute of the restart. Merson floated in a right wing free-kick which Steve Watson was on to quickly. But the former Newcastle player sent header agonisingly wide.

The visitors suffered a blow after 55 minutes when defender Frank Leboeuf was stretchered off after suffering a thigh injury after he had been accidentally caught by second-half substitute Darius Vassell.

He was replaced by Jes Hogh and then it was Villa's turn to be shaken with Mark Delaney replacing the limping Watson. Then, five minutes later Vassell suffered what looked like a hamstring injury and was replaced by Stevie Stone.

Merson blasted a shot just over from 20 yards after Stone played him in, but the fare was rather dull with both sides' endeavour cancelling the other out.

Vialli replaced Morris and Sutton with Gianfranco Zola and Tore Andre Flo, but the duo, who orchestrated a 3-0 victory for the Blues here last season, had their work cut out by resolute Villains defending.

Despite a frantic ending, which included a wonderful David James stop from Weah, the spoils were shared.

Aston Villa: James, Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry, Watson (Delaney 60), Taylor, Boateng, Merson, Wright, Joachim (Vassell 46), Carbone, Vassell (Stone 63). Subs Not Used: Thompson, Cutler.

Chelsea: De Goey, Lambourde, Leboeuf (Hogh 53), Thome, Harley, Morris, Wise, Deschamps, Poyet (Flo 74), Weah, Sutton (Zola 74).
Subs Not Used: Ambrosetti, Cudicini.
Att: 33,704
Ref: A Wilkie (Chester Le Street).