Baros quick to repay those who showed faith in him

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The Independent Online

Did the Czech striker give thanks to a loved one who might have helped him through the dark days of his transfer or perhaps to his new manager who had shown faith in him when all else did not? No, Baros gave his humble gratitude to Steve Stride, who happens to be the Aston Villa operations manager - that is, the money man - and who happens to be the reason the 23-year-old is in the Midlands after last week's £6.5m fee brought a blessed end to the protracted move from Liverpool. Talk about licking the hand that feeds.

"Steve worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get him here," said David O'Leary, who turned around to give a big thumbs-up to the directors' box as soon as his new boy struck. "And Milan, just like I did, wanted to show his appreciation."

Villa Park certainly showed theirs, of an individual performance by Baros that fairly bristled with all the excitement of the recently liberated; almost as loudly, in fact, as the depreciation they displayed towards Robbie Savage.

Savage is well used to that, as wherever the Welshman travels in the pantomime that is the Premiership, he is forever cast of the grinning villain. Villa had special reason to bellow their disaffection and not simply because his last club is some club called Birmingham City.

Incredibly, in 17 previous appearances against Villa, Savage was undefeated, a "curse" that was to put to bed rather comfortably. Despite Blackburn Rovers' renowned ability to launch a second-half fightback from the depths of mediocrity being once again evident, O'Leary's declaration was hard to argue with. "The only disappointment is that we didn't score a few more," he said. "We should have won by a mile."

Baros and Kevin Phillips would certainly second that. The pair's interaction to set up and finish the 11th minute match-winner was the mere precursor for an afternoon of instinctive understanding, and if a hero was indeed born in Aston on Saturday then so, more importantly, might have been the effective striking partnership Villa have been missing.

"Don't give me any credit for it," giggled O'Leary, mightily relieved after his side's first win of the season. "Milan didn't arrive until Thursday and I didn't get much time to work with him. That's given us another option up front."

What Mark Hughes would do for a few of those, but with the front man Craig Bellamy stricken with an ankle injury for the next three weeks, as Blackburn raged back from their worryingly muted first-half, Shefki Kuqi would always be fighting a lonely battle up front.

At least, their discipline was not an issue; they received just two yellow cards on Saturday. Fair-Play League, here they come.

Goal: Baros 11 (1-0).

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Samuel; Whittingham (Berger, 69), Davis, McCann, Barry; Baros, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Angel, Cahill, Moore.

Blackburn Rovers (4-1-4-1): Friedel; Matteo (Gresko, 57), Todd, Nelsen, Reid; Tugay; Emerton (Johnson, 81), Flitcroft (Jansen, 61), Savage, Pedersen; Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Mokoena.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).

Booked: Aston Villa Mellberg, Baros; Blackburn Rovers: Nelsen, Matteo.

Man of the match: Baros.

Attendance: 31,010.

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