Remi Garde got an instant, positive response from bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa Sunday as his first match in charge produced an unexpected 0-0 draw against leaders Manchester City at Villa Park.
It was hardly a classic, but Garde's debut saw Villa play with early enthusiasm, then late grit and intensity against a visiting side which spun its wheels far too often. The draw extended City's nine-match unbeaten run but it also opened the door for Arsenal to go top of the Premier League if the Gunners could defeat Tottenham Hotspur later Sunday afternoon.
Villa seemed buoyed by the arrival of their new boss, who made six changes from the side that had faced Tottenham. The home fans also offered support as they saw Villa compete with good defensive cohesion and a willingness to look to get forward. Carles Gil was active in midfield and led a spirited early approach.
City, which lost Wilfried Bony to an apparent hamstring injury midway through the opening 45 minutes, did not bother Brad Guzan's end of the pitch very often in the opening half, perhaps the best chance a run by Raheem Sterling onto a decent pass from Yaya Toure in the 37th minute. Sterling got behind the defenders but seemed to go down too easily under a Ciaran Clark challenge that left referee Craig Pawson to decide there was no penalty on the tackle.
City began to assert some authority after the interval and Guzan had some vital help from his defenders in the 52nd minute when he failed to hold a free kick from Kolarov and saw the ball swept out of danger before City could pounce on the bobble. Guzan was brilliant a minute later to anticipate a Sterling header to a Jesus Navas cross that created a point-blank chance. Sterling's attempt struck the keeper in the face and stayed out.
The hosts were being penned in by City as the match passed the hour mark, Villa having lost that early spark which had enabled them to break out of trouble in the first half. Now there was often frantic recovery defending as Navas and Sterling found room to operate out wide. City should have been ahead in the 66th minute when Navas' cross found DeBruyne alone at the right post but the Belgian bundled it wide of the open corner. That turned out to be one that got away for the leaders.
Garde sent on Charles N'Zogbia, making his first appearance since the FA Cup final last season, and Leandro Bacuna inside the final 15 minutes and the changes produced a bit of a lift for Villa, which was able to create the occasional counter after absorbing pressure for most of the second half. Idrissa Gueye made a strong run but could not find Bacuna with his pass at the top of the box, then Hart had to time his advance correctly to cover a ball intended for Bacuna at the top right.
City had again surrendered the momentum, losing the midfield domination that had characterized much of the second half. They continued to look dangerous whenever Sterling came forward down the wing. Villa stayed composed in the face of those raids to see off any potential trouble and City lacked the necessary creativity and luck -- Fernando hammering a stoppage time header off the bar -- to ruin Garde's successful start.