A season of simmering frustration has reached boiling point for Aston Villa. This draw means the team have all but survived the threat of relegation but the toil required to do so has clearly been overwhelming and darkened the mood of even the squad's most placid figure. After all, this largely forgettable match will be remembered for the moment Emile Heskey morphed into a figure of unrelenting fury.
The flashpoint came in the 33rd minute when the striker, having felt he should have been awarded for a free-kick for being kneed in the back by the Wigan centre-back Antolín Alcaraz, barged the referee, Mike Jones, in response to his lack of action. Heskey looked set to be dismissed before instead being booked.
A melee between both sets of players ensued as Heskey continued to harass Jones. A second yellow card appeared a certainty but the player remained on the pitch until half-time, when he then again angrily confronted Jones in the tunnel. Unable to calm Heskey, Gary McAllister, Villa's caretaker manager, decided to substitute the player during the interval
"If Emile did barge into the referee then he is lucky," McAllister said. "It's uncharacteristic of Emile; he was annoyed he didn't get protection from the referee, but it was an over-the-top reaction. He's someone I admire and that just isn't Emile. The decision to make the change at half-time was for the team, I needed to make sure we finished with 11 men."
McAllister said the player will not be disciplined for his conduct, but according to Roberto Martínez, the Wigan manager, he should now be facing up to a suspension, which could well follow if Jones includes the confrontation in the tunnel in his post-match report. "My players are adamant his reaction was out of order and he should have got a red card," Martínez said. "Heskey's a fantastic player, but if you don't keep your cool you can get a red card."
McAllister admitted Heskey's reaction could partly be down to what has been a deeply disappointing season for Villa, one that started with them losing Martin O'Neill as manager and, last month, saw his replacement, Gérard Houllier, withdraw from duty after suffering chest pains. The aim for them now is to get to the summer as quickly as possible.
For Wigan, the spectre of relegation continues to loom with a make-or-break encounter with West Ham to come. The point they earned here should be cherished, but it will be a source of frustration to the visitors that they took the lead only to then aid their opponents in scoring themselves. Barely seven minutes had passed after Charles N'Zogbia had struck with a close-range shot when Ben Watson clumsily brought Ashley Young down outside the Wigan area. The winger dispatched the resulting free-kick.
"We had to work hard to stop Villa and a point was the least we deserved," Martínez said. "West Ham is a huge game."
Both teams had chances to win this contest, with Hugo Rodallega going close for Wigan before Darren Bent missed a one-on-one opportunity for the hosts. All the talk later, though, was about the striker who was not there.
MARK RUTTER, Observer reader Thankfully this dirge of a season is ending. We are a rudderless ship at the moment and the club needs to sort out the manager situation if Houllier is too unwell to continue. I'd like to see Moyes or Hughes come in. The game was mediocre and the ref was appalling. Bent should have won it but fluffed his lines at the end.
The fan's player ratings Friedel 6; Walker 6, Dunne 6, Collins 6, L Young 6; Downing 7, Petrov 6, Reo-Coker 6; A Young 7; Heskey 4 (Albrighton ht 5), Bent 5
JAMES ANDERSON, Observer reader We should have been facing 10 men after Heskey's meltdown and maybe that would have made the difference. We need wins but an away point at least kept us going – it was straight out the ground to find somewhere to follow the Blackpool match, which was as hard on the heart as our own game. I'm not sure how much more of this we can stand.
The fan's player ratings Habsi 7; Boyce 6, Alcaraz 6, Caldwell 7, Figueroa 6; McCarthy 6, Watson 6; Moses 7 (McArthur 82 n/a), N'Zogbia 8 (Di Santo 69 6), Cleverley 6; Rodallega 7
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