Maybe the question needs to change. Instead of wondering whether Aston Villa are good enough to break into the top four the query should be who is going to stop them? This was their seventh successive away victory – a club record – and such is their momentum, Arsenal might not catch them and Chelsea, who were overtaken yesterday, have every reason to be anxious.
Villa scored through the excellent James Milner and Gabriel Agbonlahor and, even though the second arrived only in the 90th minute, they were comfortably the better side against Blackburn Rovers, who, hitherto, had been on a nice little run of their own, an unbeaten sequence of nine matches. The result plants the losers more firmly in the bottom three, while the victors increasingly have the look of a young team destined for auspicious things.
Villa are third and, ominously for those around them in the Premier League table, they are developing a quiet assurance worthy of a team who have dropped just four points from their last 30. Their manager, Martin O'Neill, who described his players as brilliant, said. "We have a lot of belief about us. We created a lot of chances considering we were away from home. I thought the team were magnificent."
It was a theme repeated by his Blackburn counterpart. "Villa were too good for us," Sam Allardyce said. "That's the first team I've seen since I have been here who have been better than us. Our defeat was disappointing but, in all honesty, we didn'tdeserve anything."
After an untidy start, the shape of things to come arrived in the 17th minute when Gareth Barry's free-kick ended in the Blackburn net. Referee Steve Bennett disallowed the "goal" for pushing and replays showed that Heskey had used Chris Samba's shoulders for extra lift. Villa did not protest too vigorously and the chief effect appeared to be on the home side, who had been made aware of a potential weakness.
When the visitors were awarded a corner 10 minutes later, so much attention was paid by Blackburn to the big men in the centre, they neglected what was going on with the kick. Milner exchanged a one-two with Barry which gave him an angle to work with, and then he walloped a shot that whistled past goalkeeper Paul Robinson and Morten Gamst Pedersen, who should have been protecting the post.
Blackburn appealed vainly for a penalty when Barry climbed over Benni McCarthy but it was Villa who came closer to scoring before the interval when Agbonlahor had a shot blocked by Robinson and in the scramble for the rebound both Agbonlahor and Heskey were a touch from poking the ball into an unguarded net.
Agbonlahor had a header cleared off the line by Andre Ooijer after 66 minutes and, with Villa hitting on the break, they were fractions from going 2-0 ahead in the 77th minute. Ashley Young tore down the left before crossing. Agbonlahor got a slight touch and Milner, on the far post, tried to side-foot into the far corner and pulled his shot just wide.
Blackburn appealed for several penalties, most notably when substitute Roque Santa Cruz collided with Zat Knight, but even Allardyce agreed, "I didn't see anything that wasblatant", and the game finished as a contest with Villa's second goal.
Stephen Warnock made a horrible hash of a clearance that became a pass across his own area and Agbonlahor's pace allowed him to accept the gift, his shot into the corner given extra venom by a slight deflection.
Referee: Steve Bennett
Man of the match: Milner
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content