Joachim off to stunning start

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The Independent Online

Aston Villa 2 Blackburn Rovers 0

Aston Villa's thoughts may be turning to the Coca-Cola Cup final, but they did not allow a Wembley date with Leeds to distract them from their pursuit of the Premiership's title contenders at Villa Park last night.

Headed goals by Julian Joachim - his first in Villa colours - and Gareth Southgate saw off Blackurn and took Villa to within three points of third- placed Liverpool, whom they visit on Sunday.

Joachim, Brian Little's pounds 1.5m recruit from Leicester, was making his full debut. The pocket-sized striker filled the roaming role normally held by the injured Tommy Johnson, and occasionaly lit up a barren first half with flashes of precocity.

Goalscoring was not Joachim's strongest suit at Filbert Street, and it seemed unfortunate for Villa that, when they finally created a half chance in the 28th minute, the prolific Dwight Yorke took the part of provider rather than predadator.

The Tobagan's far-post header from Gary Charles' cross gave the newcomer a glimpse of goal, but his snap volley under pressure from Colin Hendry was more threatening to the executive boxes in the North Stand than to Blackburn's goal.

The champions' busy, confident approach play often belied their wretched away record, through the experimental attacking partnership of Alan Shearer and the Swede, Niklas Gudmundsson, caused Mark Bosnich few alarms before the interval. The visitors better efforts were from long range, by Jason Wilcox and Billy McKinlay, with the Villa goalkeeper able to make a routine catch on each occasion.

Paul Warhurst, on as a substitute, had scarcely touched the ball before he failed to connect with Henning Berg's low centre as it passed across the face of Bosnich's goal two minutes after half-time. It was to prove a costly aberration: Villa ended the stalemate with a stunningly incisive goal after 55 minutes.

Savo Milosevic began the move with a clever turn. Mark Draper took over, sweeping a long pass out to the advancing Charles on the right touchline. Pausing only to chest the ball down, the wing-back crossed to the edge of the six-yard area. Joachim, the smallest man on the pitch apart from his new colleague Alan Wright, rose to send a glancing header past Flowers.

With 19 minutes remaining, Villa made the points safe when Gareth Southgate was allowed a free header from an Andy Townsend corner.

Milosevic, who had scored his first goal in English football when the sides met at Ewood Park, would have added to his unimpressive tally but for a marvellously agile tip-over by Flowers from his diving header in the 75th minute.

While the second half was as stirring as the first had been soporific, Bosnich was not tested until three minutes from time when he beat out Shearer's fierce 30-yard drive.

Aston Villa (3-4-1-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton; Charles, Townsend, Draper, (Scimeca, 82) Wright; Joachim (Farrelly, 86); Milosevic, Yorke. Substitute not used: Oakes (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2) Flowers; Berg, Hendry, Coleman, Kenna; Gallacher, McKinlay, Sherwood, Wilcox (Warhurst, h-t); Gudmundsson (Fenton, 65), Shearer. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).