Portsmouth 2 Aston Villa 2
There must be something about the South Coast air that brings out the best in West Midlands teams.
Three days after Birmingham City ended up on the wrong end of a seven-goal thriller at Southampton, Portsmouth and Aston Villa proved that the Premiership can serve up plenty of raw excitement.
It took more than half an hour to ignite but, once it did, what a treat this match was.
Perhaps Villa should have won after wasting chances to add to Gareth Barry's penalty opener. In the end, they could have lost, after two goals by Matthew Taylor — the first a header, the second from the penalty spot for a blatant handball decision against Barry. But substitute Juan Pablo Angel drew level with Barry again as Villa's top scorer thanks to a deflected equaliser five minutes after coming off the bench.
Certainly, to see their side draw was reward for the fans who had to put up with the Premiership's least attractive away fixture. Being forced to sit on an open terrace, exposed to 90 minutes of wind and rain, is surely not acceptable in this day and age.
It wasn't a problem last season because Villa were one of the lucky teams to be handed an August match at Fratton Park. But, in the depths of an English winter, Pompey's away end is not the ideal place to watch football.
Villa might have missed another chance to go third and Pompey might have dropped a place to fourth but both teams look to have enough about them to remain in the top half of the table through the winter months.
In Villa's case, that depends on finding some new spark in front of goal. Not before time, Angel was dropped, one of two players left out following Wednesday night's 3-1 home defeat to Manchester City.
Gabriel Agbonlahor was pushed up front, with Barry reverting to left-back in place of Wilfred Bouma. Although Isaiah Osbourne came in to fill one of the two spaces in midfield, it was the recall of Steven Davis that had the major effect.
In a poor first half, Pompey had the first three chances, Nwankwo Kanu firing just wide before stand-in goalkeeper Stuart Taylor saved long-range efforts from Matthew Taylor and again from Kanu. But it was Davis whose artistry brought the breakthrough.
He was close to setting up an opener for Barry as the link man in a neat one-two. Although Sol Campbell's outstretched leg averted that danger, there was no such reliable last line when the incisiveness of Davis's passing created another opening.
This time, after robbing Glen Johnson, his beautifully-weighted ball with the outside of his right boot sent Agbonlahor racing clear. The reaction of David James was one that the Villa fans were more than familiar with.
It won't be one of the lead items in his classic 'Calamity' collection but it was still pretty clumsy. He levelled the Villa flier and that gave Barry the opportunity to demonstrate his restored confidence from the spot as his explosive left foot blasted the penalty high to James' right.
Martin O’Neill, Villa's manager, hinted that James might have received more than a painful knee in the chin and a yellow card but, like almost everything he did on Saturday, the much-abused Uriah Rennie looked to have got that one right.
"It wasn't a sending-off offence," James said, "There was no malice intended."
But it did confirm captain Barry's stance on the freakish number of penalties Villa have had this season.
He said: "You've got to find yourselves in the box to get goalscoring opportunities. We're doing that more than we did last season so that's why we're getting more penalties."
Villa appear to have finally got the knack, thanks to Barry's fifth successful spot-kick out of six.
Barry might have had another against his old team-mate. But, still lining up his wall at his left post, James reacted like a cat to Barry's quickly-taken free kick, somehow getting all the way across goal to claw it away with a stupendous save.
Villa had other chances, too. Milan Baros should have done better with a free header while Stilyan Petrov and Gavin McCann had shots blocked. Then there was the moment when Agbonlahor's pace took him to the byline, only for Baros to somehow allow his pull-back to drop behind him — the sort of chance a confident, hungry striker would have gobbled.
But Pompey were getting chances, too. After heading his side's early second-half equaliser, Taylor banged the corner of post and bar with a thunderous drive.
Taylor seized responsibility from the spot when his own header was blocked by Barry's outstretched arm. But, only two minutes later, Angel's shot was diverted in off the inside of Campbell's thigh.
"It had to be something like that to beat David James, the form he's in," Harry Redknapp, the Portsmouth manager, said.
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Primus, Campbell, Pamarot; O'Neil, Fernandes, Mendes, M Taylor; Lua Lua (Benjani 37), Kanu (R Hughes 88). Subs: Ashdown (gk), Thompson, Kranjcar
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): S Taylor; Mellberg, Cahill, Ridgewell, Barry; Petrov, Osbourne, McCann, Davis (A Hughes 90); Agbonlahor, Baros (Angel 77). Subs: Olejnik (gk), Bouma, Gardner
Referee: Uriah Rennie (Sheffield)
Sending-off: Mendes (second bookable offence)
Bookings: Portsmouth - James, Mendes (fouls); Villa - Ridgewell, Osbourne, Barry, Baros (fouls)