Through the merited applause at the end of Villa’s fine 4-1 victory against Blackburn, a collective sigh of relief could also be heard. Because this was an important three points, and in the light of the weekends other results, keeps our head above water.
The first half was a frustrating affair as an unsettled Villa looked to find their feet and secure a home win. The re-hashed back four of Dunne, Clarke, Baker and Walker did look relatively comfortable. Clarke’s move back to centre half did much to increase his credentials in this position, albeit against a less than sharp Santa Cruz. Walker continued to impress, particularly going forward and Dunne was solid. Villa’s defensive concerns continue to mount, with Nathan Baker forced to withdraw midway through the first half due to a head injury. Unexpectedly, Fabian Delph slotted into left back but never looked phased.
The match also featured a more balanced midfield. The suspended Makoun watched on as Robert Pires effortlessly slotted into the centre midfield role and picked and probed for the first half. Not all of Pires’ passes came off, but his vision, movement and ability to carve teams open were excellent throughout. Few fans will openly praise Pires, largely seeing him as a barrier to academy players breaking through, however, in games like this the experience of a World Cup winner proved invaluable.
Houllier had also opted to drop Agbonlahor. Now, as a fan favourite and having scored after good link-up play with Bent at Blackpool, this was arguably a risky move. However, if Villa don’t intend to play Gabby as the out and out striker that he is then it must surely be prudent to bring Albrighton back into the fold and allow Downing to move back into a more natural position. The first half was scrappy as Albrighton found his feet after a period out warming the bench and swapping sides with Downing did little to remedy this lack of sharpness. The first half was in short, a poor affair.
Going in at halftime there was some unwarranted booing from some sections of the home support. This was particularly disappointing considering that the team had created chances and was working to unlock a rigid and physical Blackburn team. But this would all change in the following 45 minutes.
The sides returned and Villa continued to pick at Blackburn. Rovers, for all of their patience and solidity, ventured infrequently going forward. Indeed, Friedel was called into action of note just once, saving well, low to his near post. Whilst over 90 minutes this appears a minimal contribution, the save came with the scores level.
A Villa goal finally came after hard work from the impressive Ashley Young. Andrews, the Blackburn defender, inexplicably turned on himself in the penalty area and was dispossessed with ease by the predatory Young. The Blackburn defender then promptly hauled Young down and the referee immediately gave a penalty. Young stepped up and dispatched the spot-kick low past Robinson in front of the Holte End.
This prompted the floodgates to open as Blackburn’s attempts to take a draw back to Ewood Park capitulated in moments. Albrighton, who increasingly made the once iconic Salgodo look an utter waste of wages all afternoon, picked and probed again at Blackburn and forced an own goal after delivering a difficult inswinging ball after good work. Blackburn were well and truly rocking.
The third goal came as Downing burst through on Blackburn’s goal. The midfielder tore up the turf and closed in on Robinson, and despite options in the centre, curled a fine effort beyond the former England ‘keeper. The Holte End erupted. The goal was great, the move sublime and Villa’s desire to kill matches off when in a position to do so is something not previously enjoyed.
Blackburn pulled a consolation back courtesy of Kalinic who always seems to perform well against Villa. The goal was a bizarre looping ricochet that surprised everyone in the ground as it found the back of the net. Cue collapse? No chance.
A new trait under Houllier appears to be genuine self belief. A different type of belief to that instilled by O’Neill. You see, previously Villa were ok until we went behind or conceded a goal to leave us in a precarious position. Often we folded when only minutes earlier victory seemed the only probable outcome. And so it was refreshing to see us kick off and attack the Holte End to put the game beyond all doubt.
Downing, who got better as the game progressed crossed the ball to Young, who from 10 yards made no mistake drilling high into the Blackburn goal. The victory moves Villa into the safety of mid-table, and whilst the results didn’t all go with us, it very much moves the team into a better position going into next weekends game at Bolton.
On reflection there were further positives as well as the result. Even though Bent didn’t find the net he was always on the last man, and had through balls been weighted better, he could have had a field day. Also, Bent has a real knack for being in the right place at the right time. He caused Rovers a headache until his late swap for Heskey who managed to put wide from a yard in the dying moments.
Also it was a masterstroke by Houllier to include Pires who received a fitting ovation when substituted after producing his best performance in a Villa shirt. There can be no doubt that he is woefully bereft of pace, but his range of passing is sublime and on numerous occasions he made incisive passes that were awe inspiring. The likes of Albrighton and Bannan training with this man is exactly the direction we need to be taking, as when their time comes, Pires is the type of player they would hope to emulate.
As noted at the beginning of the piece these 3 points are a massive gain for Villa. Defeat would have really pushed us unnervingly close to the trap door and allows us a visit to Bolton without further added pressure. Before that comes a trip to Manchester City in the only cup that matters on Wednesday night.