Clark offers glimpse of Villa's bright future

Aston Villa 3 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Online

The remodelling of Aston Villa continues apace. Michael Bradley, the 23-year-old American midfielder currently with Borussia Mönchengladbach, will today become manager Gérard Houllier's fourth transfer-window signing, replacing Steven Ireland, who yesterday joined Newcastle on loan.

Bradley, son of the United States coach Bob Bradley, will be Villa's second loan capture, following Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker, who is tipped to be in Fabio Capello's England squad for the game in Denmark on Wednesday week. Ireland, valued at £8m in the £24m deal which took James Milner to Manchester City in August, was part of Houllier's inheritance but struggled to make an impact.

Even without Houllier's "permanent" recruits, Darren Bent and Jean Makoun, Villa were too good for Blackburn, with a starring role going to the versatile Ciaran Clark. In his case, Capello's loss looks certain to be Giovanni Trapattoni's gain. Harrow-born Clark, who captained England to Under-20 level, has opted to represent the Republic of Ireland.

These are early days, yet the 21-year-old shows signs of possessing the poise, athleticism and flexibility which has characterised the great utility players, from Duncan Edwards to Michael Essien via Paul Madeley and Paul Lake. "Ciaran was phenomenal," said Houllier, whose analysis of his burgeoning talent could have been a pen picture of Gareth Barry. "He can play left-back, centre-back and in midfield. And he scores goals. He got one and nearly had another. He's a clever player with good awareness. Even at the end of the match he saved a goal."

Clark headed Villa in front but Nikola Kalinic replied before Robert Pires, aged 37, and Nathan Delfouneso, 19, struck to exemplify Houllier's claim of a "good combination of experience and youth". Blackburn could not respond, even after the 62nd-minute dismissal of Nathan Baker for a two-footed challenge.

Pires' display, while some way short of Arsenal pomp, was his best for Villa and drew a mea culpa from Houllier: "I think I may have made a mistake by starting him too early. We were short of personnel so I launched him in his first game against Arsenal, which was difficult. It took him two months to get back to a certain level of fitness. I was pleased with the players' reaction when Robert scored."

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Friedel; Walker, Cuellar, Clark, Baker; Reo-Coker, Pires (Collins, 68), Bannan; Delfouneso (Albrighton, 72), Heskey, Agbonlahor (Downing, h-t). Substitutes not used Marshall (gk), A Young, Albrighton, Delph, Petrov.

Sent off Baker (62).

Blackburn Rovers (4-1-3-2): Robinson; Salgado, Samba, Hanley, Olsson; Nzonzi; Andrews (Grella, 70), Hoillet, Pedersen; Santa Cruz (Kalinic, 11), Roberts (Benjani, 85). Substitutes not used Bunn (gk), J Jones, E-H Diouf, Lowe.

Man of the match Clark.

Referee L Probert (Wiltshire).

Attendance: 26,067

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