Its not all that long ago that a trip to Ewood Park, all too often ended in a disappointing return trip to Brum following another reversal, but fortunately in recent seasons we’ve started to give a good account of ourselves in the town of ‘four thousand holes’, turning in decent performances, while collecting an impressive points haul.
So it was with a fair degree of confidence that we set off mid-morning to negotiate once again the infamous M6 Motorway, heading north to Blackburn, Lancashire.
Plenty of other ‘Villa cars’ were visible on route, and it was obvious once again that Martin and the lads, were to be backed by a healthy travelling support, a belief more than confirmed when we arrived at the ground, to see the claret and blue in evidence everywhere, including a handful of the more flamboyant Villans, sporting fancy dress.
I don’t think that anyone was surprised upon hearing Mart’s starting X1, after all our manager is not known for making changes for changes sake.
We lined up as follows:-Friedel, Cuellar (Gardner half-time), Davies, Knight, L Young, Milner, Petrov, Barry, A Young, Heskey(Carew 69min), Agbonlahor.
So no surprises there, but Big Sam wasn’t so predictable when announcing his line-up, deciding to leave Santa Cruz on the bench. That a club in the sort of trouble that Rovers are, can afford to leave a talent like Santa Cruz out of the team takes some comprehending, but hey, they’re the opposition, I’m not going to worry about their strange selections, particularly if it means that they are sending out, in my opinion anyway, a weakened team.
The line-up for their lot was:- Robinson, Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock, Pedersen, Grella, Andrews (Tugay half-time), Dunn (Diouf half-time), McCarthy, Roberts (Santa Cruz 75min)
Not a bad looking line up is it, with some useful players in the mix. Makes you wonder why they are involved in a serious relegation battle. Guess we were about to find out.
We dominated the first forty-five minutes, were a class above, and the only criticism one could level at our lads, is that we didn’t go in at the break, two or three goals to the good.
We had the ball in the Rovers net on three occasions. Robinson typically flapped at, and completely missed, an inswinging free kick from Gareth Barry in the fifteenth minute, and Big Emile was on hand to force the ball home with his chest, only to have the effort ruled out, presumably the referee deciding that there was an illegal challenge on the ex-Spurs custodian. Didn’t look like it to me (we were admittedly up the other end), maybe tv replays will prove that referee Bennett got it right.
Then in the fortieth minute Gabby thought that he’d put us deservedly two goals up, yet once again the effort was disallowed. Offside presumably.
In between those two disallowed efforts though (25th minute), our Man Of The Match Jimmy Milner, who I thought enjoyed a tremendous game, had sent a ‘legal’ scorcher past Robbo, after playing a very clever one-two from a right wing corner with Cap’n Gareth.
We had other chances, the first as early as the third minute, when Emile Heskey saw his effort blocked, after fine approach play from Gareth and James. Curtis Davies got clear of his marker following an Ashley Young corner, only to head narrowly wide of the post.
Then on the stroke of half-time Gabby broke clear but couldn’t force the ball past Robinson after a mad scramble.
Martin must have been a very happy bunny during the interval. We had looked in complete control, handling everything that an average looking Rovers could muster, as I say, the only concern being that we weren’t two, three goals to the good.
Craig Gardner replaced Carlos Cuellar at the break, while Big Sam decided that it was time to unleash Diouf on the Ewood Park faithful, replacing Holte End favourite David Dunn, and to send on the 50 year old Tugay in place of Andrews, a player who to me looked way out of his depth during the opening forty-five minutes. Still no Roque. Strange one Sam.
Soon after the restart Gabby misfired when set up by Stan Petrov, and Warnock cleared Emile’s header off the line.
Rovers had improved slightly, without ever looking threatening, but on the break we always looked dangerous.
Jimmy Milners shot was blocked after he was cleverly set up by Craig Gardner, and Gabby saw his effort cleared off the line by Grella.
James experienced his one blot in an otherwise superb performance, when he screwed his shot wide on seventy-five, following a surging run from Young.
Santa Cruz finally appeared replacing Jason Roberts, but apart from effort that flew just wide of Brad’s post, he was as ineffective as had been Roberts before him.
Rovers seemed to appeal for a penalty every time that our lads put in tackles inside the box, but Bennett, always well up with play, never saw anything untoward in our defending. Nor was there.
Just as the assistant referee was about to signal four minutes of stoppage time, and the lads were ready and willing to play keep ball in the corner to wind the clock down, Gabby made the game safe, and secured our seventh successive away victory, when he cut into the box and drove home goal No 2, aided by a Ryan Nelsen deflection.
So there we have it. Another well deserved away victory to write home about, a club record seventh successive, three more valuable points, and up to third in the table, following Chelsea’s inability to see off Hull City.
The bells are indeed ringing for the claret and blues.
My marks out of ten, go something like this:-
Brad – 6
Carlos – 6
Curtis – 7
Zat – 7
Luke – 7
Stan – 7
James – 9
Ashley – 7
Gabby – 7
Emile – 7
Big JC – 6
On for Emile 69th min
Craig – 6
On for Cuellar half time.