Ashley Young return to form is timely for Aston Villa as they face a Cup fixture pile-up, starting with tomorrow's Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Blackburn.
By the end of the month, Villa will have played four cup games in January three against Blackburn on top of their league fixtures.
But they will be happy to switch focus, having finished 2009 with two painful league defeats against fellow top-four hopefuls Arsenal and Liverpool. Unusually, they did not score in either game.
England aspirant Young was ineffective against Arsenal and was suspended against Liverpool. But he returned here and was the key man, supplying brilliant left-sided deliveries for Villa's first two goals, headed in by Nathan Delfouneso and Carlos Cuellar.
Yet he had to ride some tough challenges and admitted he feels like a 'marked man' now.
'There are times when you get fouled, especially as a winger,' said Young. 'You just have to pick yourself up and keep going. There are a lot of players in the team who are marked men.'
It would be crass to describe Martin O'Neill's team as 'weak' because it still contained England candidates such as Young, Emile Heskey, Stewart Downing and Nigel Reo-Coker. Blackburn were the more depleted of the two.
And the visitors fell behind after Young's first unplayable cross in the 13th minute, which was headed in by Delfouneso from 10 yards.
Blackburn should have levelled on 32 minutes when Reo-Coker's tug on Steven Reid led to a penalty, but David Dunn's spot-kick was well saved by Brad Guzan.
Cheerio: El-Hadji Diouf received his marching orders for a late lunge on Habib Beye
Blackburn paid for that miss five minutes later as another left-sided Young delivery was converted by Cuellar's head. The away team's hopes of a comeback seemed to disappear when El Hadji Diouf saw red three minutes before half-time after a late lunge on Habib Beye.
He had been barracked by the crowd and took more flak as he walked off. Diouf responded by sarcastically raising his hands up to acknowledge the Villa fans.
Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce disagreed with the red card, but criticised Diouf, who may face further punishment for his reaction.
'I don't think the referee Howard Webb was absolutely certain in fact, I know he wasn't from the position he was in,' said Allardyce. 'It is a silly thing Dioufy has done, he is the most stupid one of the lot.'
An unlikely fightback threatened in the 55th minute when Morten Gamst Pedersen's corner was fumbled by Guzan, allowing Nikola Kalinic to capitalise. But Villa killed off Blackburn late on when Gael Givet fouled John Carew and the Norwegian scored from the spot.
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