Agbonlahor bolsters McLeish's battle for hearts and minds at Villa

Aston Villa 3 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish could not have wished for a much better start as manager of Aston Villa. Victory in his first home match since his controversial move from Birmingham City was seldom in doubt thanks to an inspired opening half and a limply compliant performance from Blackburn Rovers.

Gabriel Agbonlahor put Villa ahead in style after 12 minutes with his 50th Premier League goal, and Emile Heskey doubled the lead after 25 minutes. Villa lost Agbonlahor to a hamstring injury at half-time and some of their intensity went with him, Blackburn pulling a goal back through Morten Gamst Pedersen. But the visitors, who conceded a Premier League-worst 43 goals on the road last season, continue to look flimsy at the back and allowed a third, scored by Darren Bent.

McLeish laughed when informed that Villa had gone to the top of the table after two matches. "I wish it was May," he said. "It's early days as you know, but we've got four good points. It was a good result with many good moments in the game."

As a former manager of Villa's great rivals, McLeish might have been slightly apprehensive about his initial reception, but he was applauded to the dugout, responding in kind. "The vibes I'd been getting were that it was going to be something to look forward to," he said. "Everybody likes to be loved, but we know what football's like. It will be about results."

Steve Kean, the Blackburn manager, whose two results so far have been defeats, is only too well aware of that. "I feel disappointed more than under pressure," he said. "We feel we've been in both games without getting anything from either."

He hopes to field a stronger team before long thanks to the return of Christopher Samba and Gaël Givet from injury and "two or three" new signings. "We need our experienced guys back and that'll give us a better platform," he said. "Bids have been accepted but I don't want to mention names in case they don't pass medicals."

Villa, with Fabian Delph and Stiliyan Petrov controlling midfield, established their superiority early on, and took the lead when Agbonlahor shaped to cross from the left before stepping inside Michel Salgadoand curling a shot beyond Paul Robinson and into the top far corner.

David Hoilett looked like the Blackburn man most likely to produce a reply, but when he created a chance, the lumbering David Goodwillie, on his first start for Blackburn, blasted the ball over the crossbar. Stephen Warnock also had to block a shot from Steven Nzonzi before Villa went 2-0 up. Heskey, playing not as a target man but behind Bent, took Agbonlahor's pass and shot low past Robinson from 20 yards, the ball beating the goalkeeper rather too easily. Heskey squandered an even better opportunity when Bent found him in space, but a poor first touch enabled Salgado to race across and clear.

Rovers started the second half more positively and pulled a goal back when Hoilett crossed for Pedersen, whose perfectly timed late run allowed him to score with an unchallenged header.Villa looked stunned to have their dominance threatened, but re-established their two-goal lead after 67 minutes, albeit through a stroke of fortune. Petrov's decision to shoot from 35 yards seemed optimistic in the extreme until the ball squirted through Grant Hanley's attempted block and fell at the feet of Bent. The England forward took an age to set himself before beating Robinson.

"We had them on the back foot and if we had got to 2-2 it was game on," Kean said. Instead McLeish was able to take another round of applause on his way back to the dressing room. He knows that sterner tests await.

Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Given; Young (Clark, 55), Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Petrov, Delph; N'Zogbia, Heskey (Bannan, 66), Agbonlahor (Albrighton, h-t); Bent.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-1-1): Robinson; Salgado, Hanley, Nelsen, Olsson; Pedersen (Petrovic, 75), N'Zonzi, Dunn, Hoilett; Roberts (Formica, 75); Goodwillie.

Referee Stuart Attwell.

Man of the match Delph (Villa).

Match rating 7/10.