Blackburn 0 Aston Villa 2: Santa a sideshow as Milner makes his mark

08 February 2009 11:42
Roque Santa Cruz may be worth the odd £20million to Manchester City, but he did not merit a place in the Blackburn

starting line-up on Saturday.

And, in his 17 minutes' substitute appearance, the highly valued striker could do nothing to prevent Sam Allardyce suffering his first defeat in charge at Ewood Park as rampant Villa

stayed firmly in contention for a Champions League place after a club record seventh successive away victory.

Martin O'Neill's men were good value for the points with another impressive display which could have been far more dominant had they taken a few more of the large number of chances that came their way.

Top three 'n' easy: Villa's James Milner (doing a good impersonation of comedian Lee Evans) celebrates his opening goal

 Blackburn v Aston Villa: How the game unfolded

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Once again, the pace of Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, plus the recentlyrecruited strength of Emile Heskey, tore holes in the opposition as Villa threatened on the break.

But the star of the show was James Milner, who, in addition to scoring an excellent goal, put in a typically hard shift. O'Neill must have been delighted with the former Newcastle man's contribution in a Villa performance which also included some resilient defending from Curtis Davies and Zat Knight.

Villa got the start they wanted with a goal after 27 minutes. Heskey had wasted a couple of good chances, notably heading wide from only six yards after a corner from Gareth Barry had found him unmarked at the far post. But these misses were not to prove costly as Milner struck with clinical accuracy.



Not this time: Rovers keeper Paul Robinson punches clear from Emile Heskey

The well-worked goal caught the Blackburn defence sleeping as Milner took a short corner, exchanged passes with Barry and then rifled his shot inside the far post.

Blackburn had two more escapes just before the interval when Agbonlahor netted, only to be ruled marginally offside, and then was foiled during a desperate scramble inside the six-yard box. Milner then tested Paul Robinson with a rasping 20-yarder which the keeper did well to push aside.

Allardyce rang the changes at half-time, bringing on new signing El-Hadji Diouf and Tugay. There was no doubting the commitment of big Sam's side, as you would expect, but they could find no cutting edge to open up Villa.



Close call: Villa keeper Brad Friedel clears off the line

Santa Cruz came on in the 73rd minute and went closest to snatching an equaliser with a snap-shot from 20 yards which went inches wide. But Villa were to have the last say.

Appearing to be content to play out time near the corner flag, they got lucky when a desperate clearance landed at the feet of Agbonlahor. The pacy forward's instant shot was deflected wide of Robinson and into the net.

Villa stay on course not only for a place in Europe's top club competition next season but still cannot be counted out of the title race on this form. They are organised in defence and have the pace and skill to open up better sides than Blackburn.



Flying high: James Milner is mobbed after breaking the deadlock

As for Rovers, they must be worried. After a good start under Allardyce, they find themselves in the bottom three and short of quality.

Maybe that problem can be resolved if Santa Cruz is given the opportunity to prove that his heart still beats for the Blackburn cause.

BLACKBURN (4-4-2): Robinson; Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock; Pedersen, Dunn (Diouf 46min), Andrews (Tugay 46), Grella; McCarthy, Roberts (Santa Cruz 74). Subs (not used): Bunn, Khizanishvili, Villanueva, Givet. Booked: McCarthy, Kerimoglu.

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar (Gardner 46), Knight, Davies, L Young; Milner, Petrov, Barry, A Young; Heskey (Carew 70), Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Guzan, Sidwell, Delfouneso, Salifou, Shorey.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent). Blackburn v Aston Villa: How the game unfolded

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Source: Daily_Mail