LONDON (Reuters) – Smiles have been in short supply at Aston Villa this season with the club enduring their worst ever start to a campaign but there was some relief from the gloom as they held Premier League leaders Manchester City to a 0-0 draw on Sunday.
With new manager Remi Garde in the dugout for the first time since replacing Tim Sherwood, who was sacked last month, Villa’s players rolled up their sleeves to earn only their second point in 11 league games, ending a run of seven straight defeats.
“It was a nice experience and a fantastic atmosphere. It was a tough game. I can be very happy with my team today, I saw smiles on their faces,” former Arsenal midfielder and Olympique Lyonnais coach Garde told the BBC.
“When you play with sadness it does not help you. I tried in the three training sessions we had to deliver my message. Nobody expected we were going to score two or three goals.
“The difference between the two teams before was huge. Making sure we were well organised defensively was my priority.”
Garde made six changes to the side that lost to Tottenham Hotspur on Monday, with Jordan Amavi, Micah Richards, Jordan Veretout, Idrissa Gana, Carles Gil and Jordan Ayew all starting.
And his bold selection was justified, especially in the first half when Villa comfortably matched Manuel Pellegrini’s side despite never really threatening.
Villa rode their luck after the break, with keeper Brad Guzan saving Raheem Sterling’s close-range header with his head and Kevin de Bruyne missing a golden opportunity.
City also hit the crossbar late on but defeat would have been tough on Villa who remain bottom of the table with a mere five points with almost a third of the season gone.
Pellegrini looked frustrated at the final whistle as his side dropped two points.
“We’re disappointed with the draw,” he said.
“Of course we’re frustrated. We deserved to win the game. They had one shot in the whole game. I was happy with the way we played, especially in the second half but we were unlucky.
“It’s hard when you face a new manager. We played really well in the second half but didn’t score.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis)