Reo-Coker a lucky man, says McLeish

The Birmingham manager felt the Villa midfielder could have been sent off for his second-half challenge on Craig Gardner.

BIRMINGHAM // Alex McLeish felt Nigel Reo-Coker, the Aston Villa midfielder, could have been sent off after his second-half challenge on Birmingham City's Craig Gardner in the goalless derby draw at Villa Park.

Reo-Coker and Gardner clashed on more than one occasion during a disappointing 90 minutes which produced few clear-cut chances.

The Villa player appeared to kick Gardner in the back midway through the second half but he stayed on the pitch before eventually being substituted as a tactical move by Gerard Houllier.

McLeish, the Birmingham manager, said: "It doesn't seem that Reo-Coker and Gardner get on. I deduced that quite early. Nigel had a lash out and some referees might have interpreted that differently. He [Howard Webb]didn't see it as violent conduct. I saw [Samir] Nasri at Arsenal when he kneed Liam Ridgewell in the backside in a similar fashion. I've seen them get sent off for that."

Birmingham also had strong first-half claims for a penalty when Reo-Coker appeared to control the ball with his lower arm inside the box but Webb waved play on.

McLeish said: "It is human instinct to move the arm. But we've not had much luck with penalties for a couple of years and it was no surprise not to see it given."

Houllier felt his side looked tired. "We lacked a bit of freshness, imagination and creativity," he said. "I think we have to take into account most of us played two hours in midweek [an extra-time win over Burnley in the Carling Cup]."

Houllier left Stephen Ireland, the midfielder, on the substitutes' bench and warned him to pick up his game. "The way he played against Sunderland last weekend was not good enough for me, simple as that. We know he is a good player but he needs to work harder in games."

* Press Association