Barry continues streak to deny unlucky Rovers

Aston Villa 3 Blackburn Rovers 2
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The Independent Football

Aston Villa will need to play much better than this to establish themselves among the Premier League's elite. In climbing to fourth place, they sidestepped the very real threat of dropping points to an enterprising Blackburn Rovers because this was a performance that started miserably and didn't improve anywhere near as much as three goals might suggest.

In the space of less than a week, Villa have now won three times and netted no fewer than nine goals. But their manager Martin O'Neill admitted they were lucky and says there will be rotation for next week's trips to Newcastle and Prague. "We were second best for most of the game," he admitted. "I thought Blackburn were unlucky and we conjured a win from somewhere without getting to grips with it. We were a million miles from our best."

Well into the final half-hour, first goals of the season by Stephen Warnock and Luke Young were all that a shivering, subdued audience had by way of warming.

Then Gareth Barry and Gabby Agbonlahor, considerably more frequent entrants on the scoresheet, opened up a thoroughly unwarranted 3-1 lead before Brett Emerton pulled one back with almost the game's final kick.

Blackburn are now without a victory in four matches and are cursing the misfortune of losing Roque Santa Cruz to a calf injury in the warm-up. He was replaced by Benni McCarthy, who was twice involved in the outstanding move from which Warnock, operating in midfield, strode through to score with a left-foot shot from the edge of the area on the half-hour.

Villa, playing their fourth game in 12 days, had already been reprieved by a fine save by their former Blackburn keeper Brad Friedel from Keith Andrews, who then miskicked from another presentable opening. But, following an easily gathered Martin Laursen header, an equaliser came surprisingly on the stroke of half-time. Luke Young followed in his own unproductive cross and was there to force home untidily at the second attempt.

Although the crowd had their wish with the half-time introduction of John Carew, Villa's performance remained a slow-burner. Emerton drove narrowly wide and Warnock dragged across the face of goal when set up invitingly by Carlos Villanueva, only for Andre Ooijer to be shaken off much too easily by James Milner's brilliant turn following Ashley Young's 64th-minute diagonal ball and for Barry to turn in his third goal in three games.

Friedel reacted superbly to turn behind Morten Gamst Pedersen's explosive first-time volley and Emerton should have done better than fire wide before Ashley Young, having gone within inches of extending Villa's lead, freed Agbonlahor to settle it with an emphatic left-foot finish.

Blackburn thoroughly deserved the second goal that came their way with Emerton's outstanding curling free-kick, and their no 2 Ray Mathias said: "Conceding the first and second goals killed us. We were in command."

Goals: Warnock (30) 0-1; Young (45) 1-1; Barry (64) 2-1; Agbonlahor (87) 3-1; Emerton (90) 3-2.

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; Luke Young, Cuellar, Laursen, Shorey; Milner, Reo-Coker (Sidwell, 83), Petrov (Carew, h-t), Barry, Ashley Young; Agbonlahor (Harewood, 90). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Davies, Knight, Gardner.

Blackburn (4-1-4-1): Robinson; Simpson, Samba, Nelsen, Ooijer; Warnock (Tugay, 68); Emerton, Andrews, Villanueva, Pedersen (Olsson, 79); McCarthy (Derbyshire, 79). Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Tugay, Mokoena, Fowler, Roberts.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire)

Booked: Blackburn Samba

Man of the match: Villanueva

Attendance: 35,985