Football: Fall of Oakes, rise of Rovers

Blackburn Rovers 2 Aston Villa 1 Gallacher 44 Scimeca 81 Sherwood 88 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 27,536
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The Independent Online
ASTON VILLA, reduced to 10 men in the most controversial of circumstances, thought they had done enough at Ewood Park last night to go back to the top of the Premiership, only to be denied by a late goal from Blackburn's captain Tim Sherwood.

Villa, not for the first time this season, had shown great resilience in bouncing back from a first-half deficit and the loss of their goalkeeper Michael Oakes, 10 minutes into the second period.

Dermot Gallagher, who was suspended for not sending off a player last season, dismissed Mark Bosnich's long-term stand-in when he dashed out to the edge of his area to catch a long clearance and was adjudged by the referee's assistant to have carried the ball out of the penalty box.

At the very best, it appeared a desperately border-line decision; apart from the question of whether a goal-scoring opportunity had been denied, it looked suspiciously on the television replays as though Oakes had realised his predicament and had the presence of mind to jettison the ball before crossing the line.

"I've seen the replays and it was an outrageous decision", said the Villa manager John Gregory, calling for the introduction of a fourth official to rule from the stand on similar incidents. "There has never been a better case for it than that. I wouldn't say that jobs or championships are lost on one decision over the course of the season, but it certainly cost us the match tonight."

Oakes had played particularly well for Villa in the first half, making excellent saves from Chris Sutton, the lively home debutant Keith Gillespie and Jason Wilcox. He could do nothing, however, about the goal that put Blackburn ahead.

Kevin Gallacher did not think that he was even playing when he arrived at the ground but Nathan Blake's illness saw the old partnership with Sutton reinstated. It was Sutton who won the ball from Wilcox's corner, Sherwood headed towards goal and Gallacher followed up to finish the job.

That lead was a fair reflection of the chances created, because Villa, for all their neat build-up play, produced only one serious threat - a volley past the post by Dion Dublin, who turned down the chance to join Blackburn earlier this season after being sent off on his last two Premiership visits to Ewood with Coventry.

Villa reserved their best in terms of both attitude and execution, for after Oakes's enforced departure. Their England midfielder, Lee Hendrie, was sacrificed in order to bring on the back-up goalkeeper Adam Rachel, for a fraught league debut, but their positive response to their misfortune was best summed up by the decision to bring Stan Collymore off the bench and become a 10-man team with a three-man attack.

That seemed to have paid off 10 minutes from the end when Collymore won the ball in the air for the equaliser. Dublin could not make clean contact, but Riccardo Scimeca could, driving it in for his first senior goal.

Villa could even have won it when Collymore's cleverly angled ball released Alan Thompson but John Filan made the necessary save. At the other end Kevin Davies, on for the injured Sutton, had an invitation to lob into an empty goal but missed the target by yards.

He made his contribution moments later, nodding down a long cross from Wilcox for Sherwood to tuck away. Gregory thought there had been a hand- ball by the Blackburn skipper, but this time the video replay did not support his case with the same clarity.

For Blackburn, a fourth match without defeat since Brian Kidd took over sees them at last climbing up the table, partly because none of their fellow strugglers won. "There's new belief here," said Sherwood, who admits to being a good deal happier under the new regime.

That seems to apply to the whole team, even if they received a helping hand last night. As Aston Villa turn around at the season's half-way mark, on the other hand, they will reflect that this was one weekend that left them with nothing - apart from a creditable effort - to be happy about.

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