ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Aston Villa 0
Manchester City 0
If Aston Villa could savour the lack of drama, Manchester City were left to rue it.
Remi Garde marked his first game in charge of the Premier League's basement club by frustrating the title favourites yesterday.
A change at the helm brought a shift of fortunes for Villa, who ended a run of seven successive league defeats with their first clean sheet in the division since the opening day of the season.
But if Villa betrayed few signs of missing the sacked Tim Sherwood, City could have benefited from the presence of absent friends.
This was their seventh successive game without the injured pair of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, who should both be fit after the international break.
Five have been victories when neither creator nor scorer was needed, but stalemates with Manchester United and now Villa have told a different tale. A side that used to be strangers to 0-0 draws have now had two in three league matches.
Until Fernando's header struck the bar in added time, City's clearest chance was squandered by Kevin de Bruyne, who tried to be too clever by trying to flick in Jesus Navas' cross when a rather more conventional finish might have brought a greater reward.
The Belgian midfielder was a makeshift striker for an hour after Wilfried Bony, a rather erratic deputy for Aguero but at least an out-and-out centre forward, limped off with a hamstring injury.
It meant the focus switched to the summer additions. The former Villa man Fabian Delph was greeted with inflatable snakes on a hostile return to his old club while it amounted to a frustrating afternoon for de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling alike.
The £49 million (S$104 million) Englishman appealed in vain for a penalty when Ciaran Clark challenged him. Sterling's spectacular tumble may have cost the winger, but instead of cutting infield, he ought to have shot on his left foot.
He should have scored with a close-range header - Navas was again the provider - but, even if he knew little about it, Brad Guzan made an outstanding save.
It brought redemption for the American goalkeeper, whose handling had twice proved faulty when Aleksandar Kolarov shot, even if neither lapse cost Villa.
Guzan was one of just five to retain his place as the newcomer showed his decisiveness from the start. Former Lyon manager Garde brought back each of the four summer signings from France. They helped bring pace while the Spaniard Carles Gil, who was under-used by Sherwood, offered glimpses of invention.
Substitute Rudy Gestede almost scored a winner from a controversially-earned corner but, with City dominating the second half, Villa had to show their grit.
"The lads were outstanding and we fought for one another," said Villa captain and former City defender Micah Richards. "The new manager has come in and organised us. He has done well."
They may have only five points from 12 games, but Garde's task does not look a hopeless one.