On a wet and windy night in Birmingham, a vibrant Blackburn Rovers gave Villa a real game but ultimately it was a game that Paul Ince will look back on as a missed opportunity. Mistakes were made that cost the team goals and ultimately led to a defeat were the blue and whites deserved a point at the very least.
The goals scored by Luke Young and Gareth Barry in particular could of been avoided with more urgent defending and better positioning.
Blackburn had to start with Benni McCarthy up front due to an injury pciked up by Roque Santa Cruz in the warm up and Keith Andrews replaced Vince Grella with Morten Pedersen coming into the side in place of Martin Olsson.
For the first 10 minutes it looked like Villa were going to run riot with the pacy Agbonlahor and Ashely Young looking menacing down the flanks however they did miss the presence of party boy John Carew at the focal point of the Villa attack. Once Rovers had repelled the early onslaught the midfield put their foot on the ball and started to stroke it around and took control right up until injury time in the first half.
Andrews and Warnock dovetailed in midfield suprisingly well and Morten, after his public dropping last week, had fire in his belly. However, most impressive of all was Benni McCarthy, full of running and little touches that had Carlos Cuellar in particular baffled.
However, Villa always cause panic on the counter and stopped Rovers from throwing too many bodies forward as they can strike at a moments notice.
Blackburn took the lead on the half with a great move that revolved around the revitalised McCarthy. Holding the ball up with aplomb and laying it off to the energetic Warnock, Stephen rushed onto the ball and hammered past Brad Friedel in the bottom right hand corner.
Villa responded well and equalised on half time with Luke Young bundling the ball home. It was just the lift that Villa needed heading into half time. If it had stayed 0-1 to the away side it could of been a different story altogether.
After half time, Villa bought on John Carew who caused the Blackburn defence different problems. Samba, who had been dealing with Martin Laursen very well from set pieces was up against a larger and imposing man. Ryan Nelsen also knew he was in for a rough ride in the second half. Rovers however, still controlled the game and passed well and were the better side.
Villa still had the players though to cause damage and so it proved with the improved Milner adding additional width and threat.
And he proved useful as Villa took the lead on 65 minutes with good work from Milner on the left side. He crossed across the 6 yard box and Gareth Barry rushed in to finish with Robinson left with no chance. In fairness, the Rovers defence should have dealt with the problem better.
The game was killed off on 87 minutes when a stray pass from the Rovers midfield was latched onto by the impressive Ashley Young. He released the just as pacy Agbonlahor who kept ahead of Chris Samba and finished very well into the same corner that Warnock scored. Game over.
Rovers still had time to get a goal back and what a goal it was. A free kick was awarded on the edge of the area after Laursen fouled substitute Matt Derbyshire and Brett Emerton lashed home the free kick which not a keeper in the world would of stopped.
On reflection Rovers are making the chances to win games but these mistakes cannot be made against teams of Villa’s class, they will punish them.
However, Paul Ince will have seen enough to know that we are headed in the right direction. Some lovely football was played and a couple of lovely goals scored.
It won’t be long before Rovers are winning matches to go with these performances. Well done to Villa but consider yourself lucky.
Paul Robinson – 7
Couldn’t be faulted for any of the goals and looked steady and assured. Another good game from ‘England’s Number 1’. The confidence is coming back as Paul Ince told us it would.
Danny Simpson – 6
Given a tough time by Ashley Young. He did well to cope but found little time to get forward and help out Brett.
Chris Samba – 6
Had his hands full with Agbonlahor and did well to keep tabs on him until the very end. Coped well with Martin Laursen from set pieces but will have easier evenings.
Ryan Nelsen – 7
Several crucial interventions and a good leadership display again. Carew was a test for him in the second half but he stood up to him admirably… no pun intended.
Andre Ooijer – 7
Coping very well with playing left back despite being about as right footed as they come. Got forward well and look strong in the tackle.
Brett Emerton – 6
Looked quick but was well marked by Villa. Scored a stonking free kick and will be pleased that he is getting a regular run on the right wing.
Keith Andrews – 7
A very good display from the ‘scapegoat’. He looked composed and kept the Rovers midfield ticking over. Had a sharp effort on goal and can be very pleased with his nights work. The boos are slowly going away.
Stephen Warnock – 8
Excellent work rate, great goal and the driving force in the midfield. There are those that want him at left back but not on this performance, he is vital to the midfield at present.
Morten Gamst Pedersen – 7
Looks like he has been given a kcik up the backside. Much more effective than at the start of the season. His crossing looked better and his work rate picked up.
Benni McCarthy – 9
Very well done sir.
Carlos Villanueva – 7
A few flashes of genius but was prevented from doing them in dangerous areas. Looks so comfortable on the ball.
Paul Ince (8) – Couldn’t of done more to get the result we wanted but we didn’t get the breaks. A few picks on the night we didn’t expect such as Andrews and Gamst but they did their part.
Special mention for the departed hero. He gave the Rovers faithful a big round of applause in the second half and he got the respect he deserved in return. It bought a tear to my eye to see him in something other than a Rovers goalkeeper jersey but times have moved on. He gave his usual performance in net – a top draw one.
A class act, a great keeper and a player I will never forget.