A textbook glancing header by the Aston Villa players' player of the year, Richard Dunne, broke the deadlock in the closing minutes at Villa Park. Unhappily for the vast majority of a near-42,000 crowd, the defender's intervention was an own goal, gifting Blackburn only a third away victory and a top-ten finish to boot.
For Villa, who won only two of their nine Premier League home matches after the turn of the year, it was an anticlimactic end to another season of unfulfilled promise. Having trailed in six points behind the final Champions' League place, they will doubtless reflect that it might have been different had they not started and finished with home defeats by Wigan and Blackburn respectively. The only consolation was that Liverpool's failure to beat relegated Hull meant that Martin O'Neill's side clung on to sixth place. Seventh spot would have forced them to play a two-leg Europa League qualifying tie in July, whereas they will now enter the competition in mid-August.
Although the manner of their goal was fortuitous, Blackburn just about deserved their first success outside what might loosely be termed the black-pudding triangle, their previous away wins having come at Burnley and Bolton. After a first half in which they were grateful for the saving grace of Paul Robinson, Sam Allardyce adjusted his personnel and tactics with the result that Robinson's predecessor at Ewood Park, Brad Friedel, became busier as the contest wore on. Allardyce, sporting an unfamiliar white and navy tracksuit, had additional cause for satisfaction in that he gave debuts to two players, defender Grant Hanley, 18, and Algerian midfielder Amine Linganzi, 20. Hanley acquitted himself well against John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor, although Linganzi gave way to Morten Gamst Pedersen in a re-jig that allowed David Dunn to forage in support of lone striker Jason Roberts.
Dunn should have won a penalty when James Collins tripped him in the 58th minute, only for Steve Bennett to book him for diving. When Christopher Samba toppled Carew with 16 minutes left, the referee evened up his mistakes by giving the defender the benefit of negligible doubt. With six minutes left, Martin Olsson raced down the Blackburn left; his cross pitted the diminutive Junior Hoillet against the towering Dunne, who applied the decisive touch to leave Villa bereft.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock (L Young, 41); A Young, Petrov, Milner, Downing; Carew (Heskey, 76), Agbonlahor (Delfouneso, 78). Substitutes not used Guzan (gk), Sidwell, Reo-Coker, Beye
Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Robinson; Salgado, Hanley, Samba, Givet (Jones, 63); Hoillet, Linganzi (Pedersen, h-t), Andrews, Dunn, Olsson; Roberts (Kalinic, 85). Substitutes not used Brown (gk), Jacobsen, Emerton, Grella
Referee S Bennett (Kent)
Booked: Villa Dunne, A Young. Blackburn Dunn
Man of the match Robinson
Seven contenders for Fabio Capello's squad were on view, six in Villa colours, but Blackburn's Paul Robinson stole the show. The former England No 1 – behind Robert Green, David James and Joe Hart in the Italian's plans – made several fine saves, showing safe handling and sharp reflexes. James Milner looked tired after a magnificent season, while Stephen Warnock limped out of the fray.