Aston Villa came from two goals behind to earn a draw and save face at Colchester United in their final friendly before their participation in the Peace Cup in Spain this weekend.
Goals from Steve Sidwell and Adam McGurk cancelled out efforts from Scott Vernon and Jamie Vincent for the League One side as Martin O’Neill again fielded an under-strength team.
In a tepid first half at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, the U’s took the lead on 25 minutes when Vernon rose highest in a crowded penalty area to glance in a far post header from Dean Hammond’s deep free-kick.
Villa’s brightest moment before the interval came courtesy of a Marc Albrighton strike which was smothered by Colchester goalkeeper Mark Cousins after the young winger skipped past his marker following a pass from Nigel Reo-Coker.
Jamie Vincent doubled Colchester’s advantage on 54 minutes when he smashed in the loose ball after Clive Platt got his head to Marc Tierney’s lofted left-wing cross, although the U’s goalscorer was injured in the process and soon left the field.
Steve Sidwell, having scored on Saturday, started Villa’s fightback on 64 minutes when he capitalised on a poor clearance from Barry Bannan’s inswinging free kick from the right and slid a measured shot into the bottom right corner from eight yards.
And it was a comedy of errors from the hosts’ gifted Villa an equaliser eight minutes later when Adam McGurk was left with a tap-in after Alan Maybury kicked the ball against Cousins and the goalkeeper had saved from Andreas Weimann.
Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; Cuellar, Davies (Lowry 66), Knight (Clark 66), Shorey; Albrighton (Weimann 46), Reo-Coker, Sidwell, Osbourne, Bannan (Lichaj 64); Harewood (McGurk 66). Subs not used: Parish, Roome, Hofbauer, Herd, Collins.
n?Steve Sidwell has set his sights on becoming a regular goalscorer for Martin O’Neill’s men next season.
Sidwell only found the net four times in his first year at Villa Park after injuries restricted his first team appearances.
However, the former Chelsea player was on target during Saturday’s 3-0 friendly victory at Peterborough United, doubling his tally last night – and he is keen to add more goals to his game.
“I was pleased to get on the scoresheet but it’s all about fitness at the moment.
“It’s all about getting in position to score goals – not just that but to set others up as well.
“You get that feel back for it and by the time the season starts if selected in the starting XI I can show that on the big stage.
“But everyone’s shirt is up for grabs and there is healthy competition and that’s what you need.”
Meanwhile, former Villa European Cup winner Tony Morley has urged his former club to sign Sylvain Distin.
The experienced Portsmouth defender has been strongly linked with a move to Villa Park to replace retired captain Martin Laursen.
“I personally think the hardest player to replace this summer is Martin Laursen,” said Morley.
“When he first came to Villa he wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea and his passing sometimes wasn’t the best, but he more than made up for it with his determination in both 18 yard boxes.
“I think Distin would be a great replacement for him. He scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen from a centre half at Villa Park for Manchester City a few years ago.
“I saw Gabby Agbonlahor try to outrun him once and he matched him stride for stride. He’s got a good left foot as well which is a bonus for the balance of the team,” added Morley