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Sunday, 27 August, 2000, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
James gives Chelsea helping hand
Aston Villa 1-1 Chelsea
Aston Villa goalkeeper David James suffered another nightmare moment to hand Chelsea a point in a Villa Park stalemate.
Belgian new boy Luc Nilis made the perfect start to his Villa career with a spectacular volley to give John Gregory's side an early advantage.
But James, whose blunder handed Roberto Di Matteo the winner in last season's FA Cup Final, was the villain again when he missed a corner for Marcel Desailly to equalise in the first half.
In a match short on real quality, Villa will have been disappointed at failing to turn supremacy into a victory.
Chelsea boss Gianluca Vialli will have simply been happy to have left Villa Park with a point after their tame midweek surrender at Bradford City.
Vialli, however, will demand better of his expensive squad if they are to mount a meaningful title challenge.
And he will be angered at failing to claim all three points when Tore Andre Flo missed a glorious chance to score an injury time winner.
Both sides were forced to make changes as they attempted to cash in on the carelessness of potential title rivals Manchester United and Liverpool in squandering leads on Saturday.
Chelsea lost goalkeeper Ed de Goey when he injured a hamstring in the warm up.
He was replaced by Italian Carlo Cudicini for only his second league appearance since arriving at Stamford Bridge.
Villa boss Gregory lost his showpiece summer signing David Ginola with a training injury, with Nilis coming in for his Premiership debut.
And they experienced contrasting fortunes after ten minutes when Nilis, a Bosman signing from PSV Eindhoven, opened the scoring with a brilliant left foot volley.
He flicked a pass from Alan Wright around the recalled Frank Leboeuf, and left Cudicini with no chance with a spectacular finish into the top corner.
Nilis was giving Lebouef a torrid time, and he fooled the French defender again to test Cudicini at the near post.
Chelsea, however, were not without a threat of their own and goalkeeper James was fortunate to escape with a weak punch as he fought off the attentions of Christian Panucci and Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink.
It was a brief reprieve for James, who was badly at fault for Chelsea's equaliser, very much against the run of play after 29 minutes.
He made no impression in his attempt to claim a Dennis Wise corner, and Desailly headed comfortably home with James stranded.
Flo then shrugged off the attentions of Turkish international Alpay to burst into the box, but his ambitious effort on goal curled well wide.
Gareth Southgate then showed why he has been a target of Chelsea boss Vialli - and now reportedly of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger as well - with a well-timed block just inside the area as Flo shaped to shoot.
Villa continued to dominate both possession and territory in the second half, but boss Gregory will have been frustrated at their lack of threat.
Lee Hendrie produced a brilliant save from Cudicini, but otherwise he had been well protected by his defenders.
Gregory made a change with 20 minutes left, replacing the tiring Nilis with Julian Joachim, who was roundly jeered by Villa fans as he continues to demand a move away from the club.
And Chelsea made a change of their own with fourteen minutes left, replacing the ineffective Hasselbaink with Eidur Gudjohnsen.
James made some amends for his earlier error in the final ten minutes by turning a Roberto Di Matteo drive over the top.
Chelsea should have won in injury time when Flo raced clear on James, but his over-elaborate finish floated wastefully wide.
Aston Villa: James, Wright, Southgate, Boateng, Dublin, Merson, Alpay, Barry, Hendrie, Stone, L. Nilis. Subs: Ehiogu, Taylor, Joachim, Samuel, Enckelman.
Chelsea: Cudicini, Panucci, Babayaro, Leboeuf, Desailly, Poyet, Hasselbaink, Wise, Stanic, Di Matteo, Flo. Subs: Morris, Gudjohnsen, Cudicini, Zola, Thome.
Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).
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