Aston Villa climbed to the dizzying heights of 12th yesterday with an emphatic second half display which produced 5 goal in total, 4 of which went to the home side after a good first half performance saw Villa thwarted on numerous occasions by Rovers keeper Paul Robinson. An early second half penalty, won and converted by Ashley Young after a clumsy challenge by Keith Andrews set up the hosts romp to victory. Houllier’s sides second came courtesy of the shin of Blackburn defender Grant Hadley from a low Marc Albrighton cross and Villa effectively sealed the win minutes later when Downing raced clear before coolly dispatching past Robinson. Rovers pulled one back from substitute Kalinic whose record against the Villans made it strange that he was only used in a cameo role. The Croat’s long range effort deflected off Dunne, looping over the hapless Friedel to spoil a decent defensive display against a very poor Blackburn side. However, stand-in captain Young capped off a man of the match display with a second goal of the game, firing in from 10-yards after a Downing lay-off. Fantastic result and a performance to match all-in-all, vastly improving Villa’s dismal goal difference.
With Luke Young, Carlos Cuellar and James Collins all out, an inexperienced defence shaped up with Clark moving back to a familiar central role, and Baker returning after being sent off against the same opponents last time out. The left-back’s game was cut short again however, after a hefty blow to the head when challenging with Rovers stopper Robinson. One would have thought that a supremely weakened defence would hamper the home side but they came across very little threat from the visitors.
37-year-old Robert Pires made only his second Premier League start after struggling against former employers Arsenal three months ago. There was also a start for Marc Albrighton in the place of Agbonlahor, despite a goalscoring return from the front man.
The first chance fell to Bent but his left foot drive was the first of many to be kept out by former England international in a frustrating opening 45 for the home side.
Blackburn’s only real chance of the first half fell to captain Ryan Nelsen, in the absence of Chris Samba, but the New Zealander headed over unmarked from a Pedersen delivery.
Veteran Pires picked out Bent in the box and the striker appeared to get tripped in the box by Hanley but referee Martin Atkinson waved away the protests.
19-year-old Baker was then withdrawn after being clattered in the head on 36 minutes. With Stephen Warnock still not even on the bench despite defensive casualties, young midfielder Fabian Delph filled in at left-back but was untroubled, performing admirably, admittedly under little pressure.
Pires had a decent long drive easily parried by Robinson again with the shot straight down the keepers throat before a cross come shot from the Frenchman was not dealt with a the first attempt by the Rovers No.1 who had seemingly gifted Bent with another poacher’s effort. However, for once the 27-year-old was caught slightly on his heels, allowing Robinson to recover well and claw the rebound off his foot.
Ashley Young couldn’t convert after the keeper has once again saved a Villa effort, this time from Walker, firing his shot over the bar.
In the second half Blackburn had undoubtedly their best chance of the match just after the restart when a poor touch from Dunne allowed Santa Cruz to play in Jermaine Jones, whose low shot was well saved in his only meaningful involvement by Brad Friedel.
Villa’s dominance paid off when Young stole in to dispossess the dallying Andrews who in turn hauled the Villa man to the ground. The fourth penalty the forward has won all season. Duly dusted down, Young stepped up and sent Robinson the wrong way to give Villa a deserved lead.
Two goals in as many minutes killed the game off around the hour mark after corner picked out Dunne whose header glanced to Albrighton on the left. The winger’s low cross cannoned in off the young defender Hanley to give the home side a more comprehensive cushion.
The game was sealed a minute later when Young outfoxed Nelsen, flicking the ball out to the right for Downing to collect. Young got clattered for his troubles but Downing raced clear and curled his left-footed effort into the far post. Significantly, Nelsen was booked for his challenge on Young earlier in the move.
Pires best game for the club was met with warm applause from the Villa faithful when the wily Frenchman was replaced by Petrov with 15 minutes left, who declined the armband from Ashley Young in a respectful offering to the star of the day.
Rovers pulled one back with ten minutes remaining, causing a blip on what would have been an immaculate score sheet. Kalinic, who replaced Santa Cruz fired a speculative drive from range which took an almighty deflection off Dunne, looping over Friedel, stranded off his line. The striker’s fifth goal in 6 games against Villa.
Young completed the rout, and a fantastic personal performance by scoring his second and Villa’s fourth when he wondered into the Rovers box unopposed and smashed home a Downing lay-off.
There was still enough time for Heskey, who came on for Bent, to miss another sitter (I make that at least 3 for the season) and Nelsen to receive a second yellow and in turn, a red for another foul on Young.
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 6 – only called into action once and saved well, couldn’t prevent freak goal
Kyle Walker – 7 – attacking as ever but more assured defensively to boot
Richard Dunne – 6 – one error nearly gave visitors lead, unlucky deflection on goal
Ciaran Clark – 7 – untested but no mistakes
Nathan Baker – 6 – injured early on, sore head I’d imagine
Stewart Downing – 8 – 1 goal, 1 assist, always a threat
Nigel Reo-Coker – 7 – solid passing but eclipsed by attacking talent
Robert Pires – 7 – off the pace but still technically gifted, good first half, unsurprisingly faded
Marc Albrighton – 7 – bright return and decent assist
Ashley Young – 9 – ran the show with a brace and an assist
Darren Bent – 6 – livewire performance but should have scored against poor defence
Fabian Delph – 7 – unphased in unfamiliar left-back role, deputised with ease
Stiliyan Petrov – late cameo
Emile Heskey – subbed late on but should have scored
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