Nilis Lights Up Villa Park Draw  (Sky Sports)

Aston Villa 1 - 1 Chelsea
Nilis 10 - Desailly 30
FA Carling Premiership

Andy Clarke reporting

Luc Nilis marked his introduction to the Premiership with a superb goal as much-fancied Chelsea were held at Villa Park.

The Belgian international opened his account in English football with a scorching volley. It was the highlight of a match which never hit the heights of Saturday's Premiership action.

Nevertheless, it was an intriguing encounter, not least for the sub-plot of Chelsea's continued interest in Villa captain Gareth Southgate, who they would like as a replacement for Frank Leboeuf.

With the exception of one second half slip, Southgate was in fine form, which will not have gone unnoticed by Gianluca Vialli, particularly as Leboeuf's contribution to the match was far from impeccable.

Chelsea were forced to alter their side before kick-off, as keeper Ed de Goey was injured in the warm-up. His replacement, Carlo Cudicini, had to collect the ball from the back of his net after only ten minutes.

Alan Wright sent in a teasing low cross from the left, and as Lebouef hesitated Nilis nicked the ball away from him with his right foot, before unleashing a devastating volley into the roof of the net with his left.

It was a fine goal in an encouraging, if not spectacular, first Premiership appearance for Nilis, who started in the absence of David Ginola. The flamboyant frenchman had been injured in training.

Another man in the spotlight has been Villa keeper David James, who this week was called into Kevin Keegan's England squad for next Saturday's friendly with France.

Critics of the former Liverpool keeper will be keen once more to point out his failings on crosses, as Marcel Desailly rose unchallenged to head in Dennis Wise's 30th minute corner.

Somewhere beyond the french defensive collossus, James flapped an ineffective fist at thin air.

James did redeem himself near the end, however, sparing John Gregory's side from a defeat they certainly didn't deserve, as he brilliantly punched away a rising drive from Roberto Di Matteo.

Later still, Tore Andre Flo should have won the game for the visitors, but after receiving a splendid pass from Eidur Gudjohnsen he lifted his delicate effort over James and inches wide.

Aston Villa: James, Wright, Southgate, Boateng, Dublin, Merson, Alpay, Barry, Hendrie (Taylor 88), Stone, L. Nilis (Joachim 70).
Subs Not Used: Ehiogu, Samuel, Enckelman.
Goals: L. Nilis 10.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Panucci, Babayaro, Leboeuf, Desailly, Poyet, Hasselbaink (Gudjohnsen 77), Wise, Stanic (Morris 26), Di Matteo, Flo.
Subs Not Used: Zola, Thome.
Booked: Hasselbaink.
Goals: Desailly 30.
Att: 27,057
Ref: P Durkin (Dorset).



Aston Villa captain Gareth Southgate did not want to talk about the possibility of a move to Chelsea after this draw at Villa Park.

Speculation has been rife for months linking the England defender with a move to Stamford Bridge, with John Gregory believed to have turned down a bid from the London club before the start of the season.

But when quizzed about the newspaper talk Southgate said: "I understand you have to ask the question but it's not really one I can answer.

Southgate said he expected Tore Andre Flo to win the match for Chelsea in the last minute, only for his delicate chip to float wide. He said: "I half expected him to finish it which would have been an injustice as we deserved a point.

"We want to win games like that and when we go ahead we pride ourselves on defending well and to take the three points would have made it the perfect start to the season."

Marcel DesaillyMan-of-the match Marcel Desailly said that Chelsea must start to impose themselves on their opposition, if they are to live up to their billing as genuine championship contenders.

After their midweek defeat at Bradford, Chelsea dropped a further two points at Villa Park, with Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo missing a superb chance to win the match in the last minute.

Desailly said: "We can say that we didn't lose the game which is a good thing, but the problem is that we are always having to react to going behind.

"That's what we did at Bradford, then Aston Villa scored first today. We have to start playing from the start.

"Teams want to show their crowd that if they are aggressive to Chelsea they can have us in trouble. But we have to win these games if we want to win the Premiership.

Desailly will play for France in the friendly against England in Paris next Saturday, and the former AC Milan defender has a relaxed outlook to the game.

He said: "I will have a few days rest and then prepare for the game, but it's only a friendly. We are World champions and European champions, and we are just happy to welcome England for a friendly game at the Stade de France."

Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli said that the draw was a fair result, although he felt that his side were in command after weathering an early storm from Villa.

"They started the better in the opening 20 minutes, they created lots of chances and scored a good goal, but after we scored things changed.

"We were in charge of the game and in the second half we had a lot of possession of the ball and some good chances to score a winner, but all-in-all a draw was the fair result."

The Soccerlinks Hit List