Dunne enjoys best of old pals' act
Reunions are a recurring theme for Manchester City, but meetings with old friends can be taxing affairs.
After Emmanuel Adebayor's explosive encounter with Arsenal came Carlos Tevez's double-header: anguish at Old Trafford followed by a welcome from West Ham. This, meanwhile, enabled City and Aston Villa to reacquaint each other with their finest servant of the past decade. While they could part on equal terms with the points rightly shared, it had produced a moment the wealthier club surely didn't envisage when Richard Dunne was ushered out of the door.
Winner of City's Player of the Year award in four successive seasons, Dunne mutated into their most error-prone individual just as the club's ambitions mushroomed. Discarded five weeks ago, he gained retribution in doubly satisfying manner: scoring against his former employers and out-jumping Mark Hughes' recruit from the "Second City", Gareth Barry, in the process. When Stephen Warnock delivered a corner, the long-time City captain rose above the former Villa skipper to connect with an emphatic header.
At that stage, the get-together was proceeding smoothly for Dunne. There is, however, an unwanted guest at all such gatherings and it was entirely in keeping with Craig Bellamy's persona that he adopted that role. City's resident enfant terrible equalised, capping a swift passage of passing that took the ball from Shaun Wright-Phillips to Stephen Ireland and on via Adebayor to the eventual scorer. The initial ball followed an interception from Dunne; it was his misfortune that it then fell to Wright-Phillips and City capitalised on his brief absence from the heart of the Villa defence.
In another era, he had personified City: when he was good, he was very, very good but when he was poor, he was wretched. Now he seems the backbone of a spirited Villa side. To Dunne's credit, his was a muted reaction to scoring, while Barry was similarly restrained when City levelled. "Apparently his celebrations went down pretty well because he didn't celebrate," said a deadpan Martin O'Neill. "I didn't know that because I was too busy celebrating myself." Indeed, it was a night where the two alumni conducted themselves with rather more dignity than Adebayor had managed. "Richard was a fantastic player for Man City in good times and difficult times," said Hughes. "Our fans were special in their reaction to him."
However, Barry, in the eyes of section of the home support, was once a Villan and now a villain. Reconciling his stated desire for Champions League football and his decision to sign for a club who finished below the Midlanders last season proved beyond many. After more than a decade at Villa Park and over 400 games' service, this was the definition of a mixed reception. Barry was booed when his name was announced but clapped by some when he retreated down the tunnel after the final whistle. Later the City fans' chorus of "there's only one Gareth Barry" was applauded by some of their Villa counterparts; others responded with a taunt relating to the midfielder's parentage and his alleged greed.
"It was quite predictable, in fairness," added Hughes. "You are always going to get that. People here do appreciate what he has done for Villa but sometimes the minority have the louder voice."
Barry had appeared a strange pick to mark Dunne at set-pieces - "we'll have to change that," added his manager, dryly - but he could have been a still costlier choice: the Irishman headed narrowly past the post in the second half after again beating the Englishman in the air. However, there were reminders of Barry's attributes. One free kick was planted on the head of Adebayor, who was thwarted by Brad Friedel. In open play, a curling cross almost found the Togolese.
In the quest for parity, he became the holding midfielder after Nigel de Jong was replaced by Ireland and the merits of a specialist schemer were apparent when the substitute played his part in the equaliser.
"I'm sure it would have been strange for him," added O'Neill. "The players here have a great respect for Gareth Barry." He was effusive in his praise for the arrival from City. "Absolutely immense," he said of Dunne.
While he scored from a corner, Villa's set-piece expertise had almost brought an earlier breakthrough, Gabriel Agbonlahor meeting Ashley Young's corner with a neat flick that Shay Given saved well. Indeed, the scorched earth policy of Young and Bellamy, each blessed with natural acceleration, made the left flank a profitable avenue for both sides.
Sadly for the former, his efforts had come too late. He had already been omitted from the England squad named by Fabio Capello, who was attending his fifth game in three days. This was a breathlessly energetic game, but it gave one of the crowd a claim to be as industrious as any.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Richard Dunne - Partly, of course, for his goal, but his overall contribution was hugely impressive. One particularly well-timed tackle on Carlos Tevez provided an example of his excellent defending and he looks to have rediscovered his reliability.
ASTON VILLA VERDICT: Martin O'Neill threw a defence together in the closing days of the transfer window, but they have gelled admirably. Warnock, Dunne and James Collins all enjoyed excellent games and the left-back appears to have gained a yard of pace somewhere on the M6 during his move from Blackburn. The rather slower Carlos Cuellar fared less well in his duel with Bellamy.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Despite a starting berth on the left, Bellamy reinforced his reputation as Hughes' in-form attacker. It is early days for the duo of Adebayor and Tevez but on this evidence, there were few signs of a partnership developing.