Aston Villa 2 Bolton Wanderers 2
Nine minutes of madness, 81 minutes of tedium, 90 minutes of rain . . . Aston Villa matches were never designed to be comfortable.
Indeed, one might say that this encounter with Bolton Wanderers was a typical Villa season in microcosm.
There were the highs ( impressive debut perormances from Kevin Phillips and Aaron Hughes), the lows (some wretched defending), and one big mystery (why more than 10,000 empty seats?).
Just 33,263 people turned up for this match, a figure lower than all but one of Villa?s attendances in the Premiership last season.
Such a lack of interest was hardly the way to herald a new campaign and hardly what Doug Ellis, the Villa chairman, would have wanted to see on his return to work after a heart operation in June.
Those who stayed away ? and, given his tepid performance, Juan Pablo Angel could be added to that list ? missed an opening nine minutes that might have increased the demand for heart surgery.
Phillips opened the scoring in the fourth minute when he found space at the far post to head home a cross of radar accuracy from Hughes. So simple; so effective; enough to put a smile even on the face of David O?Leary.
?I tried to sign Kevin two years ago from Sunderland but there was only a certain amount of money and I took Gavin McCann and Thomas Sorensen,? the Villa manager said.
?I wish we?d have got him them but, for #750,000, I?m sure he will be a good professional for this club.
?Judge him over a season and he will score his goals, a fair number of goals and that is what we need. I think the fans will like him. He worked hard, took his goal well and gave a very solid performance.?
By the eighth minute, O?Leary looked like a man who jumped out of an aeroplane and realised he had forgotten to pack his parachute.
Bolton scored twice, each time from a set-piece, and each time they did so because the Villa defenders went to sleep.
Kevin Davies scored Bolton?s equaliser in the sixth minute, Ivan Campo gave the visitors the lead two minutes later.
For the first, Kevin Nolan?s long throw was turned back across goal from the by-line by Radhi Jaidi and Davies was first to react at close range in sweeping the ball hone.
For the second, Campo found himself unmarked in the centre and his downward header from Gary Speed?s inswinging corner gave Thomas Sorensen, the otherwise excellent Villa goalkeeper, little chance.
?Our defending has driven me mad,? O?Leary said. ? Bolton are predictable and that is no criticism of them. You know what you are going to get from them.
?You work all week on getting people to head the ball away and defend free-kicks and long throws but, all through the game, we looked vulnerable. We could have defended a lot better than we did.?
Never mind, David. There was always Phillips to bale you out again. This time, the new striker turned provider, crossing from the right for Steven Davies to volley home at close range.
For the remainder of the first half, Villa dominated possession but it was Bolton who created the better chances. The second half could not have been more contrasting.
Bolton virtually camped inside the Villa half and, on the balance of possession, should have won the match. Villa?s defending improved, although they were fortunate to escape when Nolan scored what appeared to be a good goal with a header from eight yards out. ?Offside?, according to the referee?s assistant, but it was a close-run thing.
?But the Kevin Nolan goal also wasn?t offside,? Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, said. ?We were denied the goal we deserved but if we?d have put our chances away, that wouldn?t have mattered.
?We took control of the game in the second half when they ran out of ideas and we produced the sort of chances that Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal would have buried.?
By that rationale, you would think that Villa were happy with the point. Not so.
Afterwards, as the players headed to their lavish cars, the consensus was that this was two points dropped rather than one gained.
Whatever, there was much about which O?Leary could be pleased. Hughes, particularly in the first half, played like a right winger rather than a right back and he is a player with a good future.
Phillips was superlative up front. Quite apart from his goal, he ran the line well, held the ball up when support was in short supply and worked tirelessly.
Alas, he plays a different game to that of Angel and it is hard to see the pair performing together for most of the season.
The arrival of Milan Baros from Liverpool cannot come soon enough. A #7 million deal seems more and more likely but O?Leary, aware that the Football Association are listening to everything he says, is keeping his counsel on the matter.
?Let?s just say I?m hopeful of getting someone from the north,? the manager said, showing a rare touch of humour.
?Let?s just leave it at that but I think we can do with a few players.?
Well, that goes without saying.