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17 September 2016

Pulsating finish to the game as Best and Sears denied

Leon Best was denied a dream debut for Town with his header seconds after coming on as a late substitute cleared off the line in a dramatic finish to the game. 

The former Southampton and Newcastle striker, signed as a free agent in August, got his head to a corner and the ball arrowed towards the net until Micah Richards headed away from danger. 

Freddie Sears then hit the post deep into added on time and Cole Skuse saw his chip headed off the line by Jonathan Kodija as Town set up a grandstand end to the game that almost brought the reward of three points. 

Town made two changes to the side that beat Derby in midweek, with Tom Lawrence coming in for his first start since joining the Club on loan from Leicester, Sears returning to the side after injury. Kevin Bru and Conor Grant dropped to the bench. 

Villa started brightly and Jordan Amavi flashed a shot just wide of the far post, Adam Webster then staying strong to prevent Jordan Ayew getting in. 

Roberto Di Matteo’s side were forced to scramble a corner clear, then Brett Pitman fired wide, while at the other end Jack Grealish cut inside but his shot was blocked by Webster.

An excellent free-kick from Lawrence saw Villa struggling to clear their area and Webster got his head on the ball but without direction. 

Sears then showed a good touch to get away from his marker and test Pierluigi Gollini from 20 yards as Town went blow for blow with the midlanders.

Nathan Baker did superbly to deflect Lawrence’s goalbound strike wide from  12 yards as Town threatened an opener, Ayew then blocking Christophe Berra’s long range effort.

Lawrence fizzed a 30 yarder just over, Skuse drove in a cross that brushed off Tommy Elphick’s head into the safe hands off Gollini, then Grealish was denied by Jonathan Douglas as the game continued to flow from end to end.

Lawrence and Sears linked up well, Sears rattling a shot into the sidenetting, then Luke Chambers’ ball over the top caused confusion in the Villa backline and it needed Elphick to steer Pitman behind for a corner. 

From the flagkick, Grant Ward’s blast was blocked by Micah Richards, Grealish then sending a right foot effort wide in the final action of the half. 

Pitman reacted quickly to get his head on the ball after Lawrence’s free-kick had cannoned into his direction, then Webster came to Town’s rescue with a fantastic challenge to stop Ayew scoring after Chambers’ backpass had fallen short.

Teddy Bishop replaced Lawrence just before the hour and in his first touch, he was involved in a clash of heads with Ashley Westwood that saw lengthy treatment for both players.

Leandro Bacuna couldn’t get any power with a right foot strike after linking up with Grealish on the edge of the box, Grealish forcing a corner soon after with a  shot deflected wide.

Town held firm as Grealish, Ayew and Westwood all had shots smothered in quick succession on the edge of the box, Villa then doing the same to a Pitman free-kick.

Bishop’s trickery created space for himself but his cross escaped his team-mates at the far post, then Webster did superbly again to rob Ayew in the box. 

Best came on for his Town debut, Luke Varney also joining the fray in a double change in the closing stages - Pitman and Bishop, who took that heavy knock making way. 

Best immediately won a free-kick 25 yards out, Gollini saving from Sears then Best was inches away from a goalscoring debut when his header from the corner was cleared off the line.

Sears saw a free-kick well saved by Gollini again, Skuse then having his chip headed off the line before Sears rattled the post with the Blue Army on their feet ready to celebrate.

It still needed another excellent tackle from Webster to stop Ayew providing the visitors with a winner in a pulsating finish to the game that remarkably finished goalless. 

Town: Bialkowski, Chambers, Webster, Berra, Knudsen, Skuse, Douglas, Lawrence (Bishop 57, Best 87), Sears, Ward, Pitman (Varney 87). Subs not used: Gerken, Emmanuel, Bru, Grant. Booked: Lawrence.

Aston Villa: Gollini, Baker (Richards 27), Elphick, Bacuna (Adomah 80), Ayew, Chester, Westwood, Amavi (Cissokho 67), Jedinak, Kodjia, Grealish. Subs not used: Bunn, Kozak, Hutton, Gardner.
Att: 19,249




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