A relatively comfortable 3-1 win, albeit against a poor Blackburn Rovers side who already look in real trouble, will have been exactly what Alex McLeish was hoping for in his first game in charge in front of the Villa faithful.
The only blemish on an otherwise impressive display in both defence and attack was a preventable goal which threatened to let the away side back into the game, but as I said other than that the hosts were solid.
Some standout performances from a number of players were highly encouraging, with Fabian Delph looking set to make a midfield slot his own. A very bright and energetic display from home debutant Charles N’Zogbia also saw him much involved in the tie, while and attacking front three of bent, Heskey and Agbonlahor in particular looked lively.
The opening exchanges saw few chances of note, but Villa were sparked to a life by a man who certainly needs the confidence. Before the game I highlighted the weakness of Michel Salgado at right back and my instincts proved correct with Gabby Agbonlahor proving a real handful for the aging Spaniard.
The opener come after a decent show of strength from Petrov on the edge of his own box was followed by a real rarity, an incisive FORWARD pass from the Bulgarian, who found Bent. The England striker held the ball up well to find an advancing Agbonlahor on the left who cut outside and inside of Salgado before bending a fantastic opener past Robinson from a tight angle.
The goal gave the struggling striker a visible confidence boost and he attempted another curling effort from range shortly after that was pretty comfortably saved by Robinson.
Villa doubled their lead before half time when Agbonlahor, again involved, picked out Heskey on the edge of the box who looked to have let the ball run away from him but finished smartly on the slide to slot home.
N’Zogbia was causing problems on the break with his dribbling a real asset and his ball retention superb while Delph was putting in a fantastic defensive shift against a far bigger Blackburn midfield.
Heskey should have doubled his personal tally before half time after good built up from Young and Bent on the right set the big man free in the box but his failed him and Salgado intervened.
Rovers had very little threat in the first period with Dunne and Collins dominating the likes of Goodwillie and Roberts for the visitors, while Warnock was again impressive at left-back with a familiarly whole-hearted effort.
McLeish was dealt a blow shortly before half-time when Agbonlahor, who had looked back to his best, picked up a hamstring knock which forced him off at half time, with Albrighton his replacement.
Villa started a little slower in the second half and seemed happy to settle for their lead early on, which proved a mistake. Rovers only real performer on the day, David Hoilett was testing an earlier injury hampered Luke Young, and made the breakthrough possible for Pedersen after a great run.
The Canadian evaded the challenge of Young, Petrov and Albrighton before the latter failed to close down his precise delivery, finding an unmarked Pedersen who ghosted into the Villa box unnoticed to head home.
Steve Kean’s side were beginning to control possession before youngsters Ciaran Clark and Barry Bannan were introduced for Young and Heskey respectively, who won headers all day for his team, and both put in decent shifts to steady the ship somewhat.
Villa crucially hit back not long after after a fortuoutous break for Darren Bent. A speculative long range drive from Petrov got tangled in the legs of Grant Hanley and Bent pounced in behind, getting the ball out of his feet before smashing home with his left.
Albrighton could have netted with a decent strike from range before the third while more impressive combination play, this time between Bannan and N’Zogbia saw the former blaze over.
Rovers nearly clawed back a late consolation from an Olsson set piece, but Given was unchallenged all game after his heroic debut exploits against Fulham and Villa not only looked good on the attack, but resolute at the back with Dunne and Collins looking more comfortable with the reliable Irishman between the sticks.
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