Aston Villa 1 Blackburn Rovers 0

Villans hero Baros downs mild Rovers
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The Independent Football

So Blackburn must have been muttering to themselves rather sarcastically last night after a strangely muted performance in the first half that did nothing for their League position and even less for their mantle as Premiership bully boys. Indeed, as Baros arrived fresh from his £6.5 million transfer from Liverpool, he might have been worrying about all the special treatment he was bound to receive, but in the event enjoyed the barely interrupted freedom of Villa Park.

"Milan played really well," the Villa manager, David O'Leary said, relieved to have his first win of the season under a belt that is now unlikely to be thrown over the nearest beam.

"You know, Patrik Berger sold this club to Milan on the attacking game we wanted to play here and I hope the early stages today showed it. We didn't want to get into a scrap with Blackburn and wanted to keep the ball moving rather than stopping and starting for fouls."

That was some wish against a side who came in with a foul ratio of more than 18 per game in this campaign, especially as Mark Clattenburg was standing second in the table of Premiership referees for cards dished out - 12 yellows in three games.

That Mark Hughes's side came off no worse and no better on his charge sheet is probably evidence enough that their "dirty" reputation is slightly over the top, although that was scant consolation for the mystified Welshman. "For some reason we didn't really get at it until the second half," Hughes said.

Baros certainly did, with commendable haste. Revelling in the luxury of a striking partner that was so often denied him at Anfield, the Czech ran on to a deliciously disguised pass by his new running pal, Kevin Phillips, and when he sped into the area and spun the ball across Brad Friedel, a new Villa hero had been born in just 11 minutes flat.

In 16 minutes flat, a Villa saint had almost been canonised when Baros displayed the lightning reflexes, electric mind and bolting feet that attracted Liverpool to him in the first place, to bring the ball under instant control from a penalty area mêlée and steam in on Friedel's goal. But this time the American was ready for him.

You would also have expected the Blackburn back four to be ready, as they were marshalled by the uncompromising figure of Andy Todd, who had shrugged off an ankle injury to take his place - not to mention a Football Association charge for his alleged butt on Tottenham's Andy Reid last week. But the visitors were not even fired up enough to extract the first caution - that "honour" going to Olof Mellberg - and they could easily have gone in two down or worse, after Gavin McCann was centimetres wide and Peter Whittingham was similarly close to turning in Baros's flick.

After the break, Blackburn were soon making amends by first levelling it and then pulling one clear - not on the scoreline but on the card count. Ryan Nelsen went into the book and Dominic Matteo soon followed, but by then their frustration was clearly building after seeing Barry's free-kick skim off Liam Ridgewell's head and on to Friedel's far post.

Still, this momentary reversion to type stirred them enough to spark some sort of resurgence but, despite controlling large parts of the second half, they never really came any closer than Shefki Kuqi's poke wide in the 53rd minute.

There was Thomas Sorensen's desperate scramble in his six-yard box that only just denied Kuqi with three minutes left but this was only after Phillips had rattled the post the previous minute.

The irrepressible Baros had set that one up and in the final minute he thought he had set himself up for a penalty after he flew over Friedel's challenge. The whistle blew but the referee simply showed another yellow card for diving as Baros shook his head in disbelief. At least Clattenburg had maintained his disciplinary average.

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