Southgate has the final word

Aston Villa 1 Blackburn Rovers 0

It may take more than the odd Premiership goal for Gareth Southgate to purge the memory of his miserable end to Euro 96, but the Aston Villa defender certainly imposed a severe penalty on Blackburn at Villa Park last night.

Southgate, so tame from 12 yards in that fateful shoot-out against the Germans at Wembley, proved altogether more deadly from long range after 64 minutes of stalemate. His instinctive strike brought Villa their first points, leaving Blackburn bereft of both goals and points and wondering whether the England man has it in for them. His only previous League goal for Villa came at the same end against the same opponents in February.

Both sides began tentatively, as if suffering hangovers from their opening- day defeats.

Villa's Steve Staunton set up the first moment of menace, after eight minutes, dummying past a defender before crossing. Ian Taylor, rising above Jeff Kenna by the far post, saw his header tipped over by Tim Flowers.

Tim Sherwood, newly re-signed to Blackburn, responded by weaving his way along the edge of the Villa area. His goal-bound shot was deflected over, though Lars Bohinen had no such excuse while firing wide after Kevin Gallacher's back-heeled pass gave him a free shot.

The Holte End's response to such profligacy was to taunt the visiting contingent over the defection of Alan Shearer. Their own top scorer last season, Dwight Yorke, received a rare caution for a badly timed challenge which felled Colin Hendry.

As half-time approached, Yorke curled a shot into the side-netting which many spectators thought had crept in. There were more vociferous claims for a goal when Gallacher, attempting to clear Taylor's header from an Andy Townsend corner, hacked the ball against the underside of the bar. The referee ruled that it had not crossed the line.

The tempo was noticeably quicker after the interval. Georgios Donis, Blackburn's Athenian winger, started to take on Alan Wright, once of Ewood Park himself. From one centre, the unmarked Gallacher's wayward effort suggested that heading was Greek to him.

The Scot had no sooner given way to a former Villan, Graham Fenton, than another Townsend corner forced a clearing header from Kenna. Southgate, lurking just outside the 18-yard box, gave Flowers no chance with a ferocious halfvolley.

Julian Joachim, betrayed by a poor first touch, and Stuart Ripley, wasting a chance to break his goal drought, both had opportunities to embellish the scoreline. But it was somehow fitting that Southgate, given a sympathetic ovation before the match, should have had the final word.

Aston Villa (3-4-1-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton; Taylor, Draper, Townsend, Wright; Johnson (Scimeca, 85); Joachim, Yorke. Substitutes not used: McGrath, Nelson, Farrelly, Rachel (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-3-2-1): Flowers; Berg, Hendry, Coleman, Kenna; Sherwood, Bohinen, Flitcroft (Ripley, 76); Donis, Gallacher (Fenton, 60); Warhurst. Substitutes not used: Pearce, Croft, Given (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

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