Souness finds contrition produces own reward

Aston Villa 0 Blackburn Rovers 2
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The Independent Football

Most footballers who go into management after hanging up their boots invariably say that nothing beats playing. Even at the age of 50, there is a part of Graeme Souness that still wishes he was involved on the pitch instead of in the dugout.

Hence the reason, Souness admitted candidly after Saturday's much-needed win at Villa Park, why he was unnecessarily rough on Dwight Yorke in a routine training session last week that prompted much-publicised accusations of unfair treatment. "I am far from blameless in terms of what has gone on," he said, his voice hardly raised above a whisper.

"I've learnt I shouldn't have been playing five-a-sides at 50," Souness added, "although what happened at the training ground with Dwight goes on up and down the country at every football club every week. I can't help myself. I'm doing the next best thing to being a football player."

Yorke, of course, was not the only player involved in an altercation with Souness. Andy Cole accused him of victimisation, and again the Rovers manager was brutally contrite. "I regret some of the things that we said when myself and Andy had words a couple of weeks ago," he said. "But the only thing that is important is the cause - and the cause is Blackburn Rovers."

As a result, with his side perilously close to the bottom three, Souness issued a call for unity and his players responded admirably, scoring two neatly taken first-half goals through the captain, Garry Flitcroft, who dominated the midfield, and Jonathan Stead.

Villa barely posed a threat as Blackburn, with a rare clean sheet, severely dented their European aspirations. The home side were forced to throw in the 19-year-old defender Liam Ridgewell for his first start and lost both Nolberto Solano, a key performer in their surge up the table, and Gareth Barry by half-time through hamstring damage and illness respectively.

Solano will out for at least a month, but whether or not Villa secure a Uefa Cup spot, few would deny that progress has been considerable after finishing 16th last season.

Goals: Flitcroft (26) 0-1; Stead (36) 0-2.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen 6; De la Cruz 5, Mellberg 4, Ridgewell 4, Samuel 5; Solano 5 (L Moore 5, h-t), Hendrie 6, Hitzlsperger 5, Barry 6 (Whittingham 6, 29); Angel 5, Vassell 6 (Crouch, 81). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Dublin.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel 6; Neill 5 (Babbel 5, 60), Short 8, Todd 7, Gray 5; Andresen 4, Flitcroft 7, Tugay 5, Emerton 6; Cole 6, Stead 7 (Amoruso, 89). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Jansen, Yorke.

Referee: A D'Urso (Essex) 6.

Bookings: Blackburn: Neill, Todd.

Man of the Match: Short.

Attendance: 37,532.