Football: Villa humiliated by Rovers

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The Independent Online

Aston Villa 0 Blackburn Rovers 4

Villa Park came to acclaim the return of the native - but found themselves watching a repeat of Blackburn Rovers' champion days.

Rovers' revival was led by Chris Sutton, who usurped Stan Collymore's much-anticipated homecoming with a 19-minute first-half hat-trick. With Kevin Gallacher adding a humiliating fourth, Rovers find themselves on top of the Premiership table for the first time since their title-winning season three years ago. Villa are bottom.

While Brian Little, the Villa manager, was understandably subdued afterwards, Roy Hodgson, his Rovers' counterpart, emphasised to him in private and the wider world in public that it was early days. "Last season at Internazionale we were top after 12 games yet we finished third and didn't get in the Champions' League. Parma were bottom after five games and they did. I know from experience how you finish is more important than how you start. It's a dream ending I'm looking for, not a dream start."

While Hodgson is right to keep a level head, he is sure to be quietly pleased with the way his Rovers are shaping up. With Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox in flight on the wings, and Sutton and Gallacher prowling the middle, it looked just like Dalglsh's championship side. This, he said, was co-incidental; he could not even recall watching that team play.

While Hodgson appears to have found his formula Little's team, in attempting to integrate Collymore and become less predictable, have lost solidity. Last night Collymore was moved behind the front two, Dwight Yorke having filled that role without success in Saturday's defeat at Leicester. He had admitted to being nervous beforehand but the buzz of expectation that arose every time he received the ball told him he was among friends. Even when their patience had gone with his team-mates, notably the newly blond- topped Mark Draper, they continued to cheer "the man".

He almost made a fairytale return as, in the first minute, he drilled a free-kick through the defensive wall only to be denied by a fine save from John Filan. It was the shape of things to come as Filan went on to deny Savo Milosevic three times in the next 15 minutes and, in the second half, Yorke on a quartet of occasions.

Having survived Villa's early assault Rovers began to spread their wings, roaming across the open spaces of Villa's midfield. With Sutton linking intelligently and Ripley and Wilcox getting behind the wing-backs, Rovers' slick interpassing began to cut Villa open.

Even so, Sutton's first was still their opening shot. Patrick Valery found Ripley on the right and he picked out Sutton in the box. The pounds 5m striker still had a lot to do, with Ugo Ehiogu on his back, but he juggled and swivelled and volleyed fiercely in.

Four minutes later Wilcox laid the ball into Gallacher, he played it back to Sutton, who drove in from 20 yards. Five minutes before the break Sutton scored again, touching in Wilcox's cross after Billy McKinlay had spread the play left.

Little responded by bringing on Ian Taylor to add bite to midfield and reverting to a back four. Villa now attacked like men possessed but Filan was unbeatable and, with 19 minutes left, Ripley's 25-yard shot was deflected in off Gallacher. He will claim it, which seems harsh on Ripley, without a goal in more than three years.

Aston Villa (3-4-1-2): Oakes; Ehiogu (Taylor, h-t) Southgate, Grayson; Nelson, Draper, Townsend, Wright; Collymore; Milosevic (Joachim, h-t), Yorke. Substitutes not used: Charles, Scimeca, Crichton (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Valery, Henchoz (Pearce, h-t), Hendry, Kenna; Ripley (Bohinen, 83), McKinlay, Flitcroft, Wilcox; Sutton, Gallacher (Dahlin, 80). Substitutes not used: Andersson, Watt (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).