Once Chelsea realised that Villa would not lay down and die, the match became a 90-minute exercise in frustration for the home side and a 90-minute exercise in industry for the visitors.

Martin O'Neill can manage everything, it seems, except for Aston Villa's levels of expectation. Try as he might, he cannot play down his team's prospects of success.

A draw away to Chelsea on Saturday, which extended an unbeaten run in the Premier-ship to seven matches in 43 days, has given the Villa manager one problem he never expected to have: how to convince the outside world that his team might actually one day lose a match.

At face value, the difference between this Villa team and the one of last season is only one player [2014] Stiliyan Petrov [2014] but the contrasts go deeper than that. One could sense it at Stamford Bridge, where Villa always looked capable of avoiding defeat.

In addition to using intelligent tactics, O'Neill has instilled a belief in his players; a belief that, even when they are being taken to pieces (as they were away to Arsenal on August 19 and away to Chelsea here), they have the confidence and ability to remain strong.

One only has to witness the revival of Olof Mellberg and Liam Ridgewell at the back, Gavin McCann in midfield, and Juan Pablo Angel up front to realise that O'Neill's arrival could, in the short term, actually save Villa money in the transfer market.

Defeating the likes of Charlton Athletic and Reading are not necessarily examples of how much Villa have improved. But drawing away to Arsenal and Chelsea are. O'Neill knows that, which is why he emerged for his post-match press conference on Saturday purring like a cat. "Yes, I am happy," O'Neill said, providing a reaction that was in stark contrast to that of Jose Mourinho, his Chelsea counterpart, who seemed crestfallen by the result.

Yes, Chelsea had enough possession and chances to have won this match. Yes, Chelsea were far more inventive and willing to take risks. But Mourinho's quote, that only one team wanted to win this match, was rather churlish. "No, I don't blame them [Villa] for that," he said.

And to think that it all began so badly when Chelsea scored inside the first three minutes.

Arjen Robben crossed the ball from the right, Thomas Sorensen failed to collect under pressure from John Terry, and Didier Drogba eventually scrambled the ball home from two yards out despite the attention of Mell-berg.

For a time, it looked as though Villa would cave in, and they surely would have done under David O'Leary. But this is a Villa that believes. And works harder. Gone is the inferiority complex and insecurity.

Once Chelsea realised that Villa would not lay down and die, the match became a 90-minute exercise in frustration for the home side and a 90-minute exercise in industry for the visitors.

Petrov and McCann exemplified this Villa performance while Mellberg and Sorensen were also impressive.

When Petrov's long-range shot forced Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper, to produce a good save, Villa grew in confidence.

It was not a complete surprise when they equalised, on the stroke of half time, with a goal that exposed the growing weaknesses in the Chelsea defence.

Steven Davis crossed the ball from the right for Ridgewell at the far post. Ridgewell, easily Villa's most improved player this season, headed the ball towards Gabriel Agbonlahor who, surprised to find himself unmarked, glanced the ball home for the equaliser.

It was a good end to the half for O'Neill, who had spent much of the previous 45 minutes dancing on the touchline, expressing frustration with the performance of Graham Poll, the referee, and seeing things off the ball that were ignored by everyone else. Poll eventually rebuked O'Neill but, at half time, only one of the two managers seemed happy.

Chelsea stepped up the pace in the second half and, inevitably, dominated possession.

They peppered the Villa goal with crosses and shots but Villa grew in strength.

Essien nearly scored from a corner but was disappointed when Sorensen tipped the cross over the crossbar while Andriy Shevchenko seemed to spend most of his time surrounded by Villa defenders.

"That was Shevchenko's best match for Chelsea," Mourinho said, but that might say more about the striker's performances in previous matches than it does about his performance in this one.

Only when Shaun Wright-Phillips emerged as a substitute midway through the second half did Chelsea look like potential European champions.

Wright-Phillips, who runs faster with the ball than most players can run without it, teased Gareth Barry on the flank and came closest to winning the match for Chelsea.

Late on, an angled drive by Wright-Phillips hit the under-side of the crossbar and bounced to safety. That was lucky for Villa but it was luck that they deserved, for they worked hard for this point, and never allowed to let their standards slip.

Indeed, Villa might even have won the match in the latter stages, first when Angel found space inside the penalty

area but shot wide, second when Baros broke clear on goal but appeared to be illegally held back, third when Angel suffered a similar fate. O'Neill was incensed and had to be restrained by, of all people, Mourinho.

The two embraced and provided an act of male-bonding that seemed surprising under the circumstances.

Three years before, in Seville for the Uefa Cup final, when O'Neill was the manager of Celtic and Mourinho was the manager of Porto, they exchanged words that were less than complimentary.

But time heals and O'Neill has proved that he can push good players towards great endeavours. Mourinho certainly respects him for that.