Swansea and Aston Villa share spoils
Swansea and Aston Villa played out a subdued goalless draw at the Liberty Stadium in a game overshadowed by the death of Wales manager Gary Speed.
The death of the 42-year-old was confirmed just over an hour before kick-off and a minute’s silence was announced as the two sides lined up on the field, which quickly gave way to a spontaneous round of applause and chants of ‘There’s only one Gary Speed’.
There were four members of the Wales national squad involved in the game as Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Joe Allen and James Collins started for their respective clubs.
Villa goalkeeper Shay Given, who had played with Speed at Newcastle, was in tears prior to kick-off.
With the overwhelming sense of sadness it was perhaps no surprise that the match was a drab affair. Substitute Leroy Lita fired narrowly wide with Swansea’s best chance, while man-of-the-match Gabriel Agbonlahor was twice denied by Michel Vorm and Chris Herd headed wide.
After the fitting pre-match tributes to Speed, Wales’ most-capped outfield player, the action got under way with Villa intent on jolting Swansea out of their familiar passing rhythm.
Fabian Delph became the first man in the book after just two minutes for a crude challenge on Leon Britton.
Alan Hutton quickly followed Delph into the book after a poor challenge on Taylor that left the full-back needing prolonged treatment on his ankle.
Swansea had enjoyed an early spell of pressure but it was Villa who had the first meaningful effort on goal when Agbonlahor forced Vorm to beat away his angled drive after good work by Charles N’Zogbia.
Swansea were dealt a blow when full-back Angel Rangel was forced off after 26 minutes with an ankle problem, with Wales Under-21 captain Jazz Richards replacing the Spaniard.
Agbonlahor’s pace was proving to be a real threat and he teed up Stephen Warnock for the full-back to miscue a cross narrowly over Vorm’s bar.
Scott Sinclair dragged an effort wide and although Swansea were having more of the ball they were proving to be uncharacteristically wasteful in possession, allowing Villa to capitalise by launching sharp counter-attacks.
And another lapse allowed Darren Bent the space to blaze over the bar before Villa had half-hearted appeals for a penalty for handball by Williams turned away.
Hutton blazed a volley over the bar as the second half opened in the same scrappy vein as the first.
Swansea were dealt another injury blow when striker Danny Graham was forced off, with Lita taking his place, and the hosts were fortunate not to fall behind when Vorm failed to get a convincing touch on an Agbonlahor shot, barely doing enough to get the ball over the bar.
Swansea enjoyed a brief bright passage as Allen flashed an effort wide from distance at the other end as the hosts strung together their first incisive attack of the half.
And their best chance of the game quickly followed as Mark Gower fed Lita in the box and the striker expertly turned Collins but fired narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Wales defender Collins recovered from that misjudgement to redeem himself moments later with an excellent block after Sinclair had outpaced Hutton down the Swansea right.
Bent then had an effort well saved by Vorm after a superb pass by Jermaine Jenas, although it would not have counted after the striker was incorrectly adjudged to have been offside.
Herd wasted a great chance to steal the points when he headed wide from barely six yards out with just five minutes remaining.