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Dunne deal as the bridesmaids share the honours; BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE.

Byline: LISASMITH

ASTON VILLA... 1 MANCHESTER CITY... 1 The "Battle of the Bridesmaids" and the job of escorting the Barclays Premier League's top dogs down the aisle to Champions League qualification come the end of the season ended honours even at Villa Park last night with a battling Villa side almost gate-crashing the rich side of Manchester's plans for the big day.

Martin O'Neill's side may have looked forever the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to breaking into the upper echelons of the division but they showed they have the top class credentials in this classy encounter and may even have stolen a win thanks to best man Richard Dunne.

Dunne headed home Villa's opener after just a quarter of an hour rising highest to head the ball home and beating former Villa skipper Gareth Barry. Had it not been for the appearance of wedding gate-crasher Stephen Ireland Villa might have been partying all night but he staged a second-half City fightback, setting up Wales International Craig Bellamy for the equaliser on 68 minutes.

Barry was left in no doubt the fans have short memories in these parts as he was booed all night while Fabio Capello watched from the stands.

But the real story was of the City defender who joined Villa at the 11th hour of transfer deadline day and bossed the show in front of his former team-mates and the manager who let him go.

Dunne joined almost every Villa player in putting in an extra shift to show they have the class to take on the top sides - remember that emphatic victory at Anfield recently? Stiliyan Petrov was back to his best after his Ewood nightmare while Gabriel Agbonlahor showed the England coach he was right to include him in this week's International double-header.

The youngster might have made it six goals in six games when he nonchalantly back-heeled a Young corner goalbound on just three minutes but somehow Shay Given saved with his feet. That gave Villa confidence however and they pressed and pressed before their 15th minute opener.

At the other end Steve Sidwell was blocking everything in his path before Barry found Adebayor only for Friedel to deny him from 20 yards.

As Villa pressed they won a corner which Stephen Warnock took and Dunne rose above Barry to head the ball home before a dignified non-celebration.

It was quite the contrast to Adebayor and hii recent over-zealous actions against his former club and it won him applause from the visiting fans.

Villa might have had a penalty a few minutes later after Pablo Zabaleta appeared to have brought Young down in the box but the Villa player went to ground too easily for referee Mike Dean who waved play on.

As City tried to get a foothold in the game Warnock did well to deny Barry with a well-timed tackle before Bellamy found Tevez who fired high over the bar.

Villa might have extended their lead after Young won another free-kick after being flattened by Nigel De Jong but Milner's effort was scrambled clear.

The second half saw Violla looking for another whilst mopping up all that City could throw at them. Even Young put in some ferocious tackles - one to deny Shaun Wright-Phillips before Cuellar was again denying the pint-sized England star.

As Villa rued their missed chances Bellamy popped up to ruin the night for the manager who taught him everything he knows.

He slammed home the ball after a great pass from Adebayor and although O'Neill's response was to grant a reprieve and a substiute appearance for Nigel Reo-Coker - the first one since their spat three weeks ago - Villa could find nothing left in the engine room.

Even Bellamy couldn't ruin his old team-mate Dunne's night however. As the Villa fans rounded off the evening with their obligatory ode to Paul Mc-Grath, Dunne soaked up the applause.

He has an awfully long way to go to fill Villa's greatest ever number five's boots but he has made a start.

Scorers: Dunne (15) 1-0, Bellamy (68) 1-1. VILLA (4-4-2): Friedel, Cuellar, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Milner, Petrov, Sidwell, Young (Reo-Coker, 81) Agbonlahor, Carew (Heskey, 68). Substitutes: Guzan, Delph, Reo-Coker, Shorey, Beye, Gardner. MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Given, Zabaleta, Toure, Lescott, Bridge, Wright-Phillips, De-Jong (Ireland, 49) Barry, Bellamy, Adebayor, Tevez (Santa Cruz, 68). Substitutes: Taylor, Richards, Johnson, Svlyinho, M Petrov.

Referee: Mike Dean.(Wirral) Bookings: Villa - Petrov (foul); Manchester City - De Jong, Wright-Phillips (both fouls).

Attendance: 37,924. Villa man of the match: Richard Dunne - outstanding at both ends of the field and a dignified non-celebration of his 15th-minute goal.

CAPTION(S):

Stiliyan Petrov climbs all over Carlos Tevez to win the ball Villa's Richard Dunne gets the jump on Gareth Barry to put his side ahead in the first half last night. Below, Gabriel Agbonlahor prepares to deliver a cross as Joleon Lescott moves in to challenge
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 6, 2009
Words:818
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