Villa edge Blackburn in Barclays Asia Trophy
Aston Villa edged a scruffy pre-season showing against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday, winning 1-0 in the first match of the Barclays Asia Trophy.
A goal from Darren Bent sealed the contest for Villa early in the second half after a nice lofted cross from Barry Bannan from the right edge of the box.
Villa made the early running with promising play from Bannan. The 21-year-old Scot had some nice moves down the right flank as he tried to impress new manager Alex McLeish, who is looking to plug a gap left by the transfers of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young.
Bannan said he was pleased to get valuable minutes in the first team.
"It was hard work -- I was happy getting 60-odd minutes on the pitch," he said.
"When you've got players like Benty there you just try to get involved. I put the ball in the right area and he finished it."
The win puts Villa through to the final of the four-team tournament on Saturday, where they will face either Chelsea or Hong Kong champions Kitchee, who meet in the late game Wednesday.
Playing before a near-capacity crowd in the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium, many of them dressed in Chelsea blue, the two Premiership teams sweated through a goalless first half, creating only a handful of chances.
Gabriel Agbonlahor posed the main threat early on, connecting well with right back Luke Young and switching wings dangerously.
McLeish said Agbonlahor and Bent looked a powerful combination, but said he was still trying to decide whether to play Agbonlahor on the flanks or up front.
"He looked very threatening, he gets into some attacking positions," McLeish said.
"We'd like to think we could play either Gaby or Benty together -- they're both England players -- every week. But that won't happen. It's horses for courses, and a long season, and you can't always play 4-4-2."
Villa almost scored in the 24th minute when a Bannan cross ran through a crowd of bodies in the area through to Stephen Warnock, but his scuffed shot was pushed away by French defender Gael Givet.
Blackburn midfielder Steven N'zonzi saw the only yellow card of the game when he brought down Agbonlahor, who threatened to break through on Villa's left flank.
Rovers manager Steve Kean gave Chris Samba given the captain's armband in the absence of Ryan Nelsen, who is still recovering from a knee operation.
Only Miguel Salgado started more games in the Premiership for Blackburn last season than Samba, but the Congolese defender has been linked with a big-money move to Arsenal.
Kean says he sees Samba as integral to the club's future and a bid for European football.
The crowd had good reason to cheer in the 53rd minute, as Samba went on a marauding run from midfield, easing past defenders, and laid off nicely to Brett Emerton, but the Australian's curled shot was tipped around the post.
McLeish brought on several of his promising youngsters in the 62nd minute, with Birmingham-born Nathan Delfouneso replacing Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton, another 21-year-old Englishman, coming on for Bannan.
Blackburn waited until the 75th minute to make changes of their own, bringing on Nick Blackman for Salgado and Vince Grella for David Dunn, who seemed short of match fitness.
The game petered out as the heat proved a decisive factor, with the Villa fans cheering every touch as their team held the ball.
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