Belfast Telegraph

McLeish happy with Villa

Alex McLeish hailed his Aston Villa side for passing "the ultimate test" of their defensive frailties after they battled to a hard-earned point against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.

Villa went into the match having conceded a higher percentage of goals from set-pieces than any team in the league, but held firm against a Potters side renowned for their aerial prowess.

Having seen his team hit the woodwork through Emile Heskey in a drab first half, McLeish felt a point was the least Villa deserved, and said: "It would have been a travesty to lose that game. Stoke are a massive threat with their throw-ins, the free-kicks and corners, but my lads were excellent."

He added: "That's the ultimate test and they passed it tonight. Credit to the players. They should take great confidence from the way they defended. They were vigilant, concentrated, up for the battles and the 50/50s.

"The team can be pleased with their performance. I thought they showed good composure at times and passed it well. The final subtlety and finesse was the only thing that eluded us. I think we could have come away with more than one point."

Stoke assistant boss Dave Kemp was far from surprised by the close nature of the contest.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was," he said. "It was tight, one goal was going to win it and we were hoping we were going to get it. We are pleased with a reasonable performance and a clean sheet and (now it's) on to the next one."

Villa's only defensive lapse saw Marc Wilson given the opportunity to meet Matthew Etherington's corner in the 69th minute. His powerful header struck the underside of the bar before being bundled away by Gabriel Agbonlahor, with replays indicating the ball had not quite crossed the line.

Asked about the incident that saw Wilson come close to breaking the deadlock, Kemp added: "I was hoping it was over the line, but with the way the crowd reacted I didn't think it was.

"We needed that to go in, I thought it was a great chance. I was stood right behind it and I thought: 'If that's on target, it's a goal,' but unfortunately it was just a little bit too high."


From Belfast Telegraph