Aston Villa 1 Bolton Wanderers 1

It is something of a paradox that Aston Villa may come to rue their home form when they find the back door to European football firmly closed in their face at the end of the season.

Villa Park in recent years has been dependably fertile ground, as David O'Leary's men traditionally buckle on their travels.

But three home draws in recent weeks - against West Bromwich Albion, Charlton Athletic and now Bolton Wanderers - have left Villa with a mountain to climb to secure seventh place, which is the gateway to the Uefa Cup competition. O'Leary takes the view that Villa's trio of draws are a major barrier to his European ambitions.

"We've taken three points from our last three home games, instead of the nine we should have got," he said.

To be fair to Villa, they performed admirably against the Trotters and were only stifled by the heroics of Jussi Jaaskelainen between the posts and some baffling decisions by referee Uriah Rennie.

Bolton also bore some of the brunt of Rennie's poor officiating, but their Finnish goalkeeper gave them a massive advantage as he kept out five good chances - two from Juan Pablo Angel, two from Steven Davis and another from Darius Vassell.

The only chance that did count for Villa came from the head of Bolton's Fernando Hierro on 26 minutes.

Former Wales international Gary Speed, who moved to the Reebok Stadium from Newcastle last summer, levelled matters after the break.

Villa were far more positive than against Charlton in midweek, with Davis and Thomas Hitzlsperger bossing the midfield.

Angel and Vassell also looked more confident, while Martin Laursen - given little chance of playing by David O'Leary on Friday because of his knee problem - was a tower of strength.

Indeed, holes in Laursen's ability to deal with Bolton's aerial threat were only briefly exposed in the opening minutes as Kevin Davies, Speed and Stelios Giannakopoulos all had headers which were not converted.

Jaaskelainen began his heroics midway through the first half when he turned an Angel header around the post following a cross from the impressive Ulises de la Cruz.

However, Villa went ahead from the resulting corner.

Nolberto Solano sent over a teasing centre and Hierro appeared to nod the ball backwards into his own net as he was jumping away from the goal.

Five minutes later Vassell had a golden opportunity to double Villa's lead after he stole the ball from Tal Ben Haim and raced towards the Bolton goal.

Arms outstretched, Jaaskelainen did enough to put off the Villa striker as he collected Vassell's poor shot.

However, Vassell was heavily involved in Villa's build-up play and played a neat one-two with Jlloyd Samuel in first-half injurytime. The move brought more acrobatics from Jaaskelainen as he turned Samuel's curling shot around his bottom righthand post.

After the break, Vassell again put pressure on the Bolton goalkeeper as he played a clever lob over the Bolton defence into the path of Davis.

However, the Northern Ireland midfielder's fierce shot was beaten away by Jaaskelainen at the expense of a corner.

This proved to be costly as, four minutes later, Speed scored his first Bolton goal.

El-Hadji Diouf was the creator with some trickery on the right flank before delivering a cross which Speed rose to head past Thomas Sorensen.

Substitute Ivan Campo was yellow-carded for bringing down Davis as Villa tried to regain the initiative and Jaaskelainen pulled off another superb save to finger-tip away an Angel header from Barry's centre.

The Finland international again excelled himself to block a Davis effort after he had made a pacy run into the Bolton area. However, O'Leary was left fuming with Rennie after Bolton defender Ricardo Gardner appeared to chop down De La Cruz in the box in the final minute.

Rennie ignored the appeals of the Colombian and the Holte End, leaving a sour taste for the home crowd and the Villa boss.

Scorers: Hierro (og, 26) 1-0; Speed (54) 1-1.

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Sorensen, De la Cruz, Delaney, Laursen, Samuel, Solano (Cole, 78), Davis, Hitzlsperger, Barry, Angel, Vassell. Subs: Hendrie, Postma, Djemba-Djemba, Moore.

BOLTON (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen, Hunt (Jaidi, 48), N'Gotty, Ben Haim, Gardner, Giannakopoulos, Hierro (Campo, 45), Speed, Okocha (Nolan, 69), Diouf, Davies. Subs: Poole, Pedersen.

Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).

Bookings: Bolton - Campo (foul), Diouf (dissent).

Attendance: 36,053.

Villa man of the match: Steven Davis - carries the team along with him with his enthusiasm.