Blackburn Rovers 2 Aston Villa 0: Bullish Bellamy brings Rovers fifth dimension

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The Independent Online

This was not the most convincing evidence of Blackburn Rovers' European ambitions, but they managed to enhance their impressive home record none the less, with second-half goals from Andy Todd and Craig Bellamy leaving Aston Villa to regret a series of missed opportunities.

Mark Hughes's side have won eight of the nine Premiership matches they have played at Ewood Park since Everton beat them there in December, this latest success lifting them to fifth in the table and cutting the gap between themselves and Tottenham Hotspur to three points. In some ways, given that they had played so well in losing at Tottenham last weekend, they might feel the luck they enjoyed yesterday had been earned.

Villa had hoped to equal a 101-year-old club record with an unbeaten away sequence of nine, but could blame only themselves for failing to do so. The striker Milan Baros, in particular, was guilty of finishing that did not reflect their superiority in large parts of the contest.

"I can't believe we lost," the Villa manager, David O'Leary, said, likening his team's performance to their 4-0 demolition of Middlesbrough in January. "But we were ruthless on that day. This time we had probably 10 chances and took none." Brad Friedel, the Blackburn goalkeeper, had much to do with that, twice thwarting Baros when he and the Czech striker were one on one, and pulling off another fine save to keep out a header from Olof Mellberg.

"Brad has made his name by winning one-on-ones," Hughes said. "I can see how Villa will feel hard done by but while we didn't reach the heights we hit against Spurs I felt we showed a lot of desire and we can go into the last nine games in a fantastic position."

Villa had been forced to make a late change after James Milner cried off with a virus but it was the Blackburn defence appeared to be ailing and were fortunate to come through unscathed after the visitors created a string of first-half chances.

Only a heroic tackle by Ryan Nelsen denied Kevin Phillips first blood after 18 minutes and within moments of that escape came Friedel's first critical save, the American sticking out a leg to thwart Baros. But Blackburn made the most of their good fortune, taking the lead from a corner four minutes into the second half, Todd poking the ball over the line after Thomas Sorensen had spilled Bellamy's flicked header. The Villa goalkeeper complained the ball had been kicked out of his hands but television replays did not support his argument.

Villa sought an instant retort but again Baros let them down, squandering a second chance to beat Friedel when Gareth Barry's well judged pass sent him clear. Soon afterwards, presented with another opening, the Czech put his header over the top.

By then, in contrast to the first half, the home side were looking more like the force they have become at Ewood Park and doubled their lead after 71 minutes. Florent Sinama-Pongolle put in Morten Gamst Pedersen with a neat manoeuvre in the box and when Sorensen again struggled to hold on, Bellamy followed in for his 13th goal of the season.

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