Aston Villa 0 Portsmouth 0
Aston Villa could be in hot water after a referee’s assistant appeared to be struck by a missile in the closing seconds of their Barclays Premier League with Portsmouth at Villa Park.
The official, Phil Sharp, sank to his knees and needed treatment before resuming with a plaster on his forehead.
Pompey manager Harry Redknapp gesticulated angrily towards the crowd behind the dug-out and stewards moved in to police that section, although it was unsure whether anyone was arrested.
Before that Portsmouth striker Jermain Defoe was guilty of a glaring first-half miss as the game fizzled out into a tame draw.
Defoe has netted six times this season for Pompey but his predatory instincts deserted him as he shot over from four yards.
Portsmouth midfielder Sean Davis was sent off for two bookable offences with 10 minutes remaining but his side held out.
Their man of the match was veteran defender Sol Campbell, who rolled back the years with a vintage display alongside the also impressive Sylvain Distin.
England number one David James did not have to make a save until the 75th minute such was the protection he received from Campbell and Co.
Gareth Barry and Stiliyan Petrov did their best to try to inspire Martin O’Neill’s side but their efforts proved in vain.
O’Neill handed first Premier League starts of the season to summer signings James Milner and Carlos Cuellar, who cost a combined £20 million.
It was the first changes O’Neill has made to his league line-up this season after keeping the same side for the opening seven games with full-backs Luke Young and Nicky Shorey both axed.
Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel was called into his first meaningful action of the game after six minutes.
A right-wing cross from Glen Little was headed away by Villa skipper Martin Laursen but fell to Davis. He struck his half volley cleanly enough from the edge of the box but Friedel was alert and clung onto the shot away to his left.
John Carew hooked wide for the home side before an inswinging Ashley Young corner picked out the Norwegian international, whose close-range effort was blocked by Glen Johnson.
Villa defender Curtis Davies came close to breaking the deadlock after 17 minutes after Laursen had headed a deep free-kick from Barry back across goal - but he was unable to get over his close-range shot.
The hosts had their let off after 28 minutes after Peter Crouch had laid the ball into the path of Armand Traore, whose fierce shot from the left side of the box rattled against the post.
The rebound hit Friedel on the back and Davies failed to make full contact on his intended clearance, which fell to Defoe only four yards out. He looked certain to score but somehow hooked his shot high and wide.
Referee Mike Riley was too whistle-happy and contributed to the stop-start nature of a low-key game which was struggling to move out of second gear.
Johnson became the first player to be booked after 42 minutes for bringing down Young, then Crouch found some rare space when he peeled away at the far post to get on the end of a Little free-kick – but his header was straight at Friedel.
The second period was equally uninspiring. In a rare moment of excitement, a long raking crossfield pass from Petrov found Young in a yard of space but he dragged his low shot wide.
Davis was booked after an hour for sliding through the back of Reo-Coker but the game was crying out for some much needed quality.
Young became the first Villa player to be cautioned after showing dissent when Reo-Coker was adjudged to have fouled Defoe, before Papa Bouba Diop was also booked for bringing down Young 25 yards out.
James saved the resulting free-kick from the midfielder away to his left – the first shot Villa had on target in the game.
Barry produced a fine tackle to stop Defoe after it looked as if the striker had broken clear, then Davis was dismissed for his second offence on Petrov - but his side helped out with relative ease.
Carew had a late header which clipped the top of the door but the subsequent incident involving Mr Sharp will inevitably attract the headlines.