Football: Kidd's crusade on course

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 2 Aston Villa 1

JOHN GREGORY pleaded an obvious miscarriage of justice with suitable vehemence, calling for the use of television evidence to assist rather than condemn match officials.

The cameras in this case confirmed Aston Villa's goalkeeper, Michael Oakes, released the ball before he strayed outside his penalty area and that he was wrongly dismissed by the referee, Dermot Gallagher, who felt he was left with no other course of action after a linesman indicated the offence.

It is an untimely predicament for Gallagher as he endeavours to satisfy the authorities he is up to the job, following his suspension last season for being too lenient with Arsenal's Steve Bould. He must surely rescind this expulsion and spare Oakes a suspension.

As Gregory ruefully acknowledged, the points cannot be reclaimed. He concluded the 54th-minute incident cost his team the match. This contention, however, does not necessarily stand up to closer scrutiny. The facts are that Villa were trailing 1-0 when Oakes departed and would have been much further adrift but for the outstanding efforts of their keeper. Only at that juncture and, fired by the challenge of defying the odds, did they exert the kind of pressure required of aspiring champions.

An equaliser, from the unlikely source of Riccardo Scimeca, rewarded their passionate retaliation, only for Tim Sherwood to inflict a final, fatal wound and compound Gregory's outrage.

The greater damage was sustained in the first half, when Blackburn were much the more purposeful and incisive. Keith Gillespie, making his home debut, and Jason Wilcox provided venom from the flanks, Sherwood and Billy McKinlay persistent support from the heart of the midfield.

Chris Sutton's very presence up-front has a galvanising effect on the team and intimidates the opposition, while at the back Stephane Henchoz's commanding influence is equally significant.

The sum total of these components proved too weighty for Villa, who relied on the agility of Oakes to keep them in the contest with stirring saves from Sutton, Gillespie, especially, and Wilcox.

Villa, reverting to a familiar formation and preferring Julian Joachim to Stan Collymore alongside Dion Dublin, responded with an effort from Lee Hendrie, which was comfortably fielded by John Filan, in the Blackburn goal.

Even Oakes was powerless to frustrate Blackburn in the 44th minute, when Sutton and Sherwood won headers before Kevin Gallacher, called up only after Nathan Blake cried off, threw himself at the ball to score the opening goal.

It was Villa's misfortune to meet a Blackburn side revived, reunited and seemingly reinvented by Brian Kidd. Theirs is a crusade for salvation and the signs are they will be fulfilled.

Injuries to Henchoz and Sutton drained much of the self-belief from Blackburn's play in the second half, and they were anxiously looking over their shoulders long before the finishing line.

Alan Thompson, a player of considerable vision and fine touch as well as a fabled left foot, might have equalised and ultimately plundered a winner. Collymore, bristling with vigour and personal indignation, offered cunning collusion.

All too late. Gregory will know his team must produce consistent control and conviction if they are to remain championship contenders. Events in this vibrant match encapsulated Villa's recent form. They are toiling to salvage points and crumbs of comfort.

Gregory, defeated only five times as Villa's manager, did concede: "We have set standards for ourselves that are difficult to maintain."

That reality will concern him far more than the transparent and transient injustice of Ewood Park.

The unique demands of the English game give both managers fresh problems and emotions to wrestle with today, Villa playing host to Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn visiting Leicester City.

Grateful as he was for the points on Saturday evening, Kidd was already contemplating his club's next engagement with trepidation.

"I don't know what kind of side I'm going to be able to put out," Kidd said. "The injuries are a real problem. It's crazy in our Premiership, the number of games we play over the holiday. They laugh at us abroad. They're all having a rest on the Continent.

"It's not only the problems we've got here. I'm talking about the problems for all our clubs. It's even more difficult for successful clubs. They really struggle."

And yet it is matches such as this that have us crying out for more.

Goals: Gallacher (1-0) 44; Scimeca (1-1) 81; Sherwood (2-1) 87.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Kenna, Henchoz (Broomes, h-t), Dailly, Davidson; Gillespie, Sherwood, McKinlay, Wilcox; Sutton (Davies, 65), Gallacher (Duff, 73). Substitutes not used: Johnson, Fettis (gk).

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Southgate, Scimeca; Watson, Hendrie (Rachel, gk, 55), Taylor (Collymore, 69), Thompson, Wright; Dublin, Joachim. Substitutes not used: Charles, Draper, Grayson.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury). Bookings: Blackburn Davidson, Wilcox, Broomes. Davies. Aston Villa Scimeca.

Sent off: Aston Villa Oakes.

Man of the match: Sherwood.

Attendance: 27,536.

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