Sherwood 21, Gallacher 29, 54, 68, Ripley 81
Aston Villa 0
MISERABLE Villa suffered a hiding from Blackburn for the second time this season as Roy Hodgson's team bounced back from defeat at Derby to deliver an impressive reminder of their quality at Ewood Park. Chris Sutton, who scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 away win in August, failed to make the scoresheet, but his feat was brilliantly emulated by Kevin Gallacher.
The Scot's superb triple strike, taking his tally for the season to 16, helped lift Blackburn into second, at least until this afternoon, reinforcing the view that if any side are equipped to take advantage should Manchester United lose their footing, they have the strongest credentials.
As the result at Old Trafford in November demonstrated with awesome clarity, they are not the equals of United by some distance. But under Hodgson's educated guidance, they have not only regained the strength and efficiency that was the hallmark of their championship side, but have developed the confidence to play with imagination also.
Yesterday's demolition prompted catcalls from Villa's travelling supporters and a terse post-match statement from manager Brian Little, who declined to take questions from the Press. "We were poor in every department and I hope this is a lesson that will stick in the bellies of my players for some time," he said.
Not surprisingly, Hodgson's delight was as full as Little's despair was deep. Villa, a team whose whole continues to be worth less than the sum of its expensive parts, were completely overwhelmed, caving in after Blackburn's vibrant start left them two down within half an hour. "The scoreline was quite correct; in fact it could have been bigger," Hodgson said.
Blackburn went ahead after 22 minutes through a practised near-post corner routine finished decisively by their captain, Tim Sherwood, and extended their lead in the 30th with a lovely goal in which Sherwood was again the key figure, pulling off a brilliant back-to-goal flick to send Gallacher clear for his first goal.
Scarcely 10 minutes into the second half, Villa might as well have headed for the bus. Still unable to create a decent chance, they found themselves three behind as Gallacher added a second goal as good as his first.
Chasing a long clearance from the immaculate Colin Hendry, Gallacher was fortunate when his attempt to flick the ball over Steve Staunton's head came back to him off the defender's chest. But, given a second opportunity, he took it superbly, applying a delicate touch with the outside of the right boot that gave Mark Bosnich no chance.
With heads dropping all round, Villa at last attempted some sort of retaliation but, when the ball dropped invitingly to Savo Milosevic to the right of Tim Flowers's goal, the Serbian's wild shot finished closer to the corner flag.
Howls of frustration rose from the Villa fans but bad was to become worse for them as Gallacher completed his hat-trick, mocking the visitors' woeful marking by nipping in at the near post to head home Stuart Ripley's corner, before Ripley volleyed home Blackburn's fifth.