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MATCH REPORT

PUBLISHED
18:26 28th April 2012

ALBION are officially this season's 'Kings of the West Midlands' thanks to this hard-earned point from the tightest of derbies.

Chances came at both ends and the Baggies needed man-of-the-moment Ben Foster to be on top of his game to secure their tenth clean sheet of the season.

But opposite number Shay Given pushed him all the way for the man-of-the match vote, producing the save of the game to deny Peter Odemwingie deep into stoppage time.

Albion should have been awarded a penalty four minutes after the break when Alan Hutton clearly handled ex-Villa man Liam Ridgewell's goalbound header.

But the draw was enough to keep the hosts nine points clear of Villa, with only two games left, to ensure they will finish as the highest-placed West Midlands club for the first time in 33 years.

Albion may have been mathematically safe before kick-off, but there was still plenty at stake at a packed-to-the-rafters Hawthorns as tenth entertained 15th - separated by nine points.

For the Baggies, it was very much about local bragging rights but for Villa survival was on the agenda, with Tuesday's home defeat by Bolton leaving them only three points clear of the drop-zone with three games to play.

Hodgson named an unchanged team but had the luxury of recalling the fit-again Marc-Antoine Fortune - in place of Somen Tchoyi - to the bench.

Alex McLeish made two alterations, with captain Richard Dunne, returning from a broken collarbone, and Ciaran Clark coming in for Nathan Baker and Marc Albrighton.

The game kicked off in the midst of a cauldron of noise - and the tackles soon started flying in.

It took a while for both teams to find their rhythm but it was Villa who threatened first. In the fifth minute, Gabriel Agbonlahor beat Foster to Charles N'Zogbia's corner but headed well over.

Two minutes later, Villa worked the ball neatly to Stephen Warnock on the edge of the Baggies box but Billy Jones' block prevented the left-midfielder's shot troubling Foster's goal.

With their first real attack, Albion went mightily close in the ninth minute. After a terrific run down the middle, Shane Long saw his miscued shot clip Carlos Cuellar and it took a fine point-blank save from Given to prevent Odemwinge's back-heel breaking the deadlock.

Moments later, Graham Dorrans exchanged a neat one-two with Odemwingie before seeing his shot brilliantly blocked by Cuellar just inside the Villa box.

Albion now had real momentum and, in the 11th minute, Chris Brunt had a 25-yard drive deflected narrowly wide by Cuellar.

It was turning into an intriguing affair and it was Villa's turn to attack in the 16th minute when N'Zogbia dragged a left-footed shot from the edge of the box wide of Foster's near post.

Albion won a corner in the 23rd minute and from Brunt's deep delivery, Jonas Olsson volleyed dangerously into a crowded six-yard box, which Dunne stabbed frantically clear.

But Villa almost drew first blood two minutes later. Dunne brought down an angled free-kick just inside the Baggies box to centre and Chris Herd saw his first-time 12-yard shot brilliantly blocked by Foster, who gathered at the second attempt.

The action was swinging from end to end and after a fine Dorrans run, Odemwingie was off-target from 20 yards.

Foster came to Albion's rescue again on 28 when Jones' weak back-header inadvertently put Agbonlahor clear. As the Villa striker raced into the box, Foster picked the perfect time to go to ground and steal the ball off his toes before bouncing back up to gather.

Foster was seeing more action than Albion would have liked and he denied Villa a certain goal on 34 when he blocked the clean-through Agbonlahor's 15-yard shot with his legs after neat play by Emile Heskey.

The game then descended into a war of attrition and it wasn't until the 43rd minute that either team threatened, when Heskey had to make a vital headed clearance from Dorrans' angled free-kick inside the six-yard box.

Albion started the second half with renewed zest - and should have been awarded a penalty on 49.

Hutton clearly stuck out an arm to divert over Ridgewell's goalbound header from Dorrans' corner but referee Mark Clattenburg failed to point to the spot - despite the hosts' vociferous protests.

From Brunt's ensuing flag-kick, the Baggies' agony continued when Gareth McAuley directed a free 12-yard header wide of the left-hand post.

Foster was called into action again in the 57th minute when he showed terrific reflexes to keep out, and then smother, N'Zogbia's 12-yard snapshot after fine work by Agbonlahor down the left.

After a scrappy passage of play, Albion broke superbly and from Dorrans' centre, Cuellar did well to prevent Brunt getting on the end of Long's far-post header back into the danger-zone.

Albion went even closer on 68 when Odemwingie spun on the six-yard box and beat Given with a right-footed shot - only for Cuellar to head clear off the line. The rebound fell to Youssouf Mulumbu but Eric Lichaj blocked his shot.

The Baggies were now well on top and after Villa only half-cleared a Brunt corner, Olsson flashed a terrific header onto the roof of Given's net from Jerome Thomas' cross.

There was an incredible passage of play inside the Albion box in the 89th minute when Foster and Olsson got in a tangle in dealing with a bouncing ball. Agbonlahor hooked wide of the empty net from a tight angle and Olsson had to produce a stunning block to prevent Clark converting Heskey's tee-up form 15 yards.

But Albion nearly nicked it in the 92nd minute when Given somehow prevented Odemwingie's volley from Thomas' centre crossing the line.

The Baggies finished strongly and, two minutes later, Jones fired into the side-netting from an acute angle.

ALBION (4-4-2): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Brunt, Mulumbu (Andrews 79), Dorrans, Thomas; Odemwingie, Long (Fortune 70). Subs not used: Fulop (gk), Scharner, Dawson, Shorey, Cox.

VILLA (4-4-2): Given; Hutton, Cuellar, Dunne, Lichaj; N'Zogbia (Gardner 74), Herd, Clark (Carruthers 90+1), Warnock; Agbonlahor, Heskey. Subs not used: Guzan (gk), Collins, Ireland, Bannan, Weimann

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: VILLA - Warnock (foul 36), Hutton (foul 42), Clark (foul 59), Heskey (foul 62).

REFEREE: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).

ATTENDANCE: 25,984.

ALBION STARMAN: Ben Foster.

    Data provided by Press Association

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