Convincing first home victory for McLeish
Aston Villa 3 Blackburn 1
Saturday 20 August 2011
Alex McLeish was able to savour the applause of the Aston Villa faithful at the end of a convincing first home victory as manager.
Goals from Gabriel Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey and Darren Bent also gave McLeish his first Barclays Premier League win over a fellow Scot in charge at his 12th attempt.
For opposite number in Blackburn's Steve Kean, it has been an eight days to the start of the season to forget, with back-to-back losses sandwiching a court appearance in which he was banned from driving for 18 months for drink driving.
If McLeish had harboured any quiet concern deep inside as to the kind of reception he might receive, that was dispelled as soon as he made his way out of the tunnel and set foot on the touchline.
The vitriol and animosity that had greeted McLeish's appointment two months ago was a thing of the past as time had clearly proven a great healer to the Villa fans.
Forgetting his prior allegiance to Birmingham, a club he guided to Carling Cup success and relegation from the Barclays Premier League last season, the greeting afforded to McLeish was positive.
The applause was certainly long and warm as he made his way to his dugout shortly before kick off, and again when his name was aired over the public address system shortly after.
What followed was as comfortable a performance as he could have wished for as Villa strolled into a 2-0 lead by the interval.
It was nothing more than they deserved as Blackburn were a team bizarrely lacking drive and purpose given it is so early into the season.
The opener, however, was special, coming after a quiet 11 minutes in which neither side had gained a foothold.
The departure of Ashley Young to Manchester United has been a hole McLeish has so far been unable to fill.
However, he may not need to if Agbonlahor continues to display the quality he produced throughout the opening 45 minutes, and in particular for the first goal.
Attacking from Young's old left-wing position, Agbonlahor cut his way into the area before delivering a stunning curled strike from 15 yards beyond Paul Robinson's flailing grasp into the top left-hand corner.
Midway through the half Agbonlahor, who only scored five goals last season, almost doubled his and Villa's tally.
In attempting an audacious effort from 30 yards, Robinson needed to be at his best to claw the ball out of the air that was again destined for the top left of his net.
The former England goalkeeper, though, was beaten again soon after, with Agbonlahor the supplier in teeing up Heskey in the 25th minute.
From inside the D, Heskey's edge-of-the-area shot made its way beyond Robinson, ending a 13-game drought for the striker stretching back to January 2.
Heskey should have made it 3-0 in the 34th minute, but despite a clear sight of goal after receiving a pass into his feet from Darren Bent, his first touch was hideous, allowing returning captain Ryan Nelsen to clear.
In reply, Rovers barely figured but for one 12-yard drive from new striker David Goodwillie, signed from Dundee United in the summer, that was fired over the angle of the woodwork.
After a virtual no-show in the first half, the goal that gave them a lifeline in the 52nd minute was a bolt from the blue, but classy nonetheless.
Neat footwork from Junior Hoilett down the left wing saw him evade two tackles, carving out a position from which he delivered a piercing cross.
Stealing in between centre backs Richard Dunne and James Collins, Morten Gamst Pedersen planted a powerful header past home debut goalkeeper Shay Given from six yards.
For a period that followed Villa appeared to lose their way, in particular as they had lost Agbonlahor at the break to a knock sustained before the interval.
McLeish was also forced to make two further changes due to injuries to Luke Young and Heskey, but any concerns as to a Rovers fightback were eased midway through the half when the two-goal cushion was restored.
After young defender Grant Hanley had blocked a speculative shot from captain Stiliyan Petrov, Bent was quick to seize on the loose ball before delivering a clinical finish beyond Robinson to seal the three points.
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