Heavenly Angel on song to lay away-day hoodoo

Blackburn Rovers 0 Aston Villa 2
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The Independent Football

It would be an exaggeration to say that bright stars in the East are more frequent than away triumphs for Aston Villa, but they do have a rarity value. Villa had not succeeded on their travels since last January, but with a gloomy anniversary looming, they succeeded yesterday at their 16th attempt.

Appropriately for the time of the year, it was a visitation of an Angel that proved decisive, Villa's Juan Pablo adding to his match-winning Carling Cup turn against Chelsea with the decisive performance here. The Colombian scored a goal and played a part in Stefan Moore's opener to improve significantly an away Premiership record that hitherto this season had yielded just two points from eight attempts.

"He wants to improve, he wants to be pushed on and he's a joy to work with," David O'Leary said of Angel. "But he cost the club £10m, so he's not a kid off the street and I expect high standards from him." Away as well as at home, because his goal yesterday was his 12th of the season and the first scored outside Villa Park.

The win ensured Villa enter the festive period with three successive wins, an improving position and a cup semi-final to look forward to. Blackburn's vista is altogether less appealing. Five defeats at home before Christmas is a damning statistic and their performance yesterday was not one to invoke optimism.

"I have been here three-and-a-half years," Blackburn's manager Graeme Souness said, "and that's the worst performance by far. Paying Blackburn supporters saw a team play without passion and aggression and they have everyone reason to be disappointed and angry." The outcome could have been predicted from the opening exchanges. Blackburn had plenty of possession but no guile. It was indicative of the sweeping moves that never came that the Villa fans, itching to jeer former favourite Dwight Yorke, had to wait 18 minutes to indulge themselves.

More confident travellers than Villa would have thrived in the face of such weakness, but although Lee Hendrie had a shot tipped round the post by Brad Friedel after eight minutes, it was a case of might-have-beens as Peter Whittingham shot wide two minutes later and Angel fired too close to the goalkeeper after some deft footwork after 26 minutes.

O'Leary feared Villa would pay for their profligacy in the second half, but that did not take into account Blackburn, who looked sluggish at best and totally comatose when they conceded the opening goal after 61 minutes.

There was nothing particularly attractive about Villa's approach play, but the home back four seemed petrified in their admiration as Angel flicked on Dion Dublin's pass and Blackburn waited for a goal-kick. Instead, Hendrie headed across the goal and Moore forced the ball in from a range of two feet.

Friedel looked angry enough with his colleagues to cancel Christmas and his mood would not have improved by Villa's second. Jlloyd Samuel crossed from the left and Angel moved quickest to beat the goalkeeper with an imperious drive with the outside of his foot.

"It was an unacceptable performance for me and the supporters," Souness said. "We didn't win individual battles and we were second best all over the pitch. We got our just deserts."

Blackburn Rovers 0 Aston Villa 2
Moore 62, Angel 75

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 20,722

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