How to lose a match in two simple steps. Keith Andrews, the Blackburn midfielder making only his fourth appearance in seven months, had the ball in his possession facing his own goal, inside his own penalty area, four minutes into the second half. The score at the time was 0-0 and while Villa had perked up late in the first half, there was no real evidence to suggest that Blackburn were not capable of getting at least a point from the game.
Andrews had ample opportunity to clear but rather than boot the ball to safety, the Irish international attempted to play his way out of trouble, and gave Ashley Young the opportunity to dispossess him. Villa's excellent captain took it and if that was not bad enough from Andrews' point of view, he then tugged at Young's shirt. Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot and Young kept his cool to stroke the ball low to Paul Robinson's right, after the goalkeeperhad dived left.
It was the moment that changed the afternoon. The edginess around Villa Park, on and off the pitch, dissipated and the home side's attacking threat, virtually invisible before that, suddenly showed its teeth. On 62 minutes, after a succession of threatening corners, Marc Albrighton picked the ball up on left of the penalty area, created some space for himself and fired a cross into the six-yard box that Grant Hanley prodded into this own net. Then, two minutes later, Young released Stewart Downing on the halfway line as Villa broke at pace and the former Middlesbrough winger – who put in an "international class" performance, according to Gérard Houllier – kept his calm to cut in from the right and curl the ball past Robinson from 12 yards. Eight minutes before the end, after Nikola Kalinic had looped a shot off Richard Dunne and into the Villa net to offer Blackburn a crumb of consolation, an unmarked Young made it four with a curled finish from 15 yards, having been teed up by Downing.
"We're in between now, we're in the middle," the relieved Villa manager said. "Some people may have been disappointed with the first half but I was not. I told the players to keep their heads up. I told them that once they got into the final third, to keep passing, not to be decisive too early. That's what we did in the second half. More important than the result for me is the quality of our play. Our fluency was also there in the second half."
Would all this have happened in Sam Allardyce's time? Well, for starters, Andrews would probably have smashed the ball into the stands rather than attempt to play his way out of trouble under the previous Ewood Park regime, and even after that, it is unlikely that any side under Big Sam's charge would have surrendered so meekly after going a goal down. Steve Kean was, ostensibly, appointed to make his Blackburn side a little easier on the eye but on yesterday's evidence, the Scot has not managed even that. Blackburn may not get the ball forward as quickly as they previously did, but passing the ball around without any real purpose does not exactly make them entertaining. Their misery was complete when Ryan Nelsen was sent off for a second booking, both awarded for fouls on Young, in injury-time.
"We set up to try to nullify them through the middle and we managed that in the first half," Kean said. "Then we find ourselves a goal down through a penalty after a bit of play we could have cleared and prevented. Just as it was one, it was two and then you're chasing the game. And when you're two down, that gameplan goes out the window."
Now in a relegation battle, Kean is going to have to hatch a new plan for survival as a matter of urgency.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Downing
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content