Villa target four players to revitalise fading season

Aston Villa 1 - Blackburn Rovers 0
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The Independent Football

Three years to the day after he soared to the Premiership summit with Leeds United, David O'Leary saw his Aston Villa side scrape into the top half of the table with this late, laboured victory. O'Leary has had to scale down his ambitions since he lived the dream at Elland Road - and now Villa's failure to land James Beattie may strain his relationship with Peter Ridsdale's prudent antithesis, Doug Ellis.

On Saturday night, O'Leary appeared to set some store by reports that Beattie expressed the desire to join them last summer. Within 24 hours, however, the England striker had pledged himself to Everton. As a result, the thorny question of Villa's ambition - or the chairman's lack of it, as fans and previous managers have claimed - is sure to resurface unless they conjure at least one major signing during the transfer window.

After seeing Nolberto Solano head the goal that ended Villa's run of four defeats and made him top scorer with a mere six, O'Leary revealed he had nominated four targets. "They're all gettable," he said. "Not Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry or Ronaldo, but people within our range. If we get one, it will improve us, but we'll still be a long way off what we're trying to achieve.

"For the past 18 months there has been a nice, solid job done here. The wage bill has come down and we've had Villa's highest attendances in 20 years. We've had 16 players going out and three or four coming in; a massive imbalance. Tottenham have brought in 14; the Defoes, Robinsons, Kanoutés. Why have Middlesbrough improved again? Because they've a wonderful chairman who got in Viduka, Hasselbaink and Parlour.

"We've got the smallest squad in the Premiership. And money talks. Those sides above us are not doing well because they've brought in kids. It's down to big investment. We finished level with Newcastle last season, yet they spent £20m last summer and just paid another £8m (for Jean-Alain Boumsong). And people are saying we're expected to beat them and get into Europe?"

Having missed out on Beattie, O'Leary insists he will soldier on with Juan Pablo Angel, plus Darius Vassell and the on-loan Carlton Cole, who are both injured. Blackburn will receive a cut of the fee for Beattie, their former player, enhancing their chances of signing Birmingham's Robbie Savage. In the meantime, the spotlight is back on "Deadly Doug" OBE, "our leader" as O'Leary calls him. One optimist reckoned his new year's honour meant "Obtains Beattie Easily". Seasoned observers suggested "Only Buys Economically". Today, it seems, it stands for "Outflanked By Everton".

Goal: Solano (88) 1-0.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorenson; De La Cruz, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Samuel; Solano, Hendrie, McCann, Barry; Angel, L Moore (Davis, 90). Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Delaney, Berson, S Moore.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Todd, Johansson, Matteo; Reid (Thompson, 60), Ferguson, Flitcroft, Emerton; Stead (Gallagher, 60), Dickov. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Pedersen, McEveley.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Aston Villa McCann; Blackburn Rovers Dickov.

Man of the match: Solano.

Attendance: 34,265.