Hong Kong Stadium
Aston Villa kicked off their Barclays Premier League Asia tour with a 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers thanks to a goal from Darren Bent. In what was an efficient display, there was plenty for manager Alex McLeish to take heart from as his new side made it two wins out of two in pres-season.
Stephen Ireland who played at Walsall last Thursday made way due to a slight niggle for Gabriel Agbonlahor, who started the game playing just behind Bent. Emile Heskey occupied the left with young Barry Bannan taking up his duties on the opposite side.
After a tentative side by both sides it was Blackburn who delivered the first shot of anger thanks to Mauro Formica whose driven effort from the edge of the ‘D’ had Shay Given sprawling to his left to parry the ball out of harms away. As the Irishman`s hands continued to sting, Villa had their first real opportunity thanks to a looping ball into the box by Bannan whose delivery was tamely met by the head of Bent. The build-up had been fantastic, all stemming from a beautiful cross-field pass from James Collins to Heskey whose linkup play with Agbonlahor prior to the chance was excellent.
Big Eck`s man began to settle into a rhythm, playing the ball neatly along the deck and keeping hold of possession. Gabby was showing his credentials in the middle and was proving to be the Villains most active attacker in the opening half. He and Bannan orchestrated some articulate play down the right before playing in a diligent ball onto the head of Bent who again, was unable to guide his effort on target. Nevertheless, great movement by the England man to peel away from the Rovers defence.
The best chance of the half fell to of all people, Stephen Warnock. He found himself getting on the end of Bannan`s cross towards the far post but failed to apply the necessary contact to trouble Paul Robinson. Heskey did brilliantly to draw Michel Salgado out of position in order for the dynamic left-back to find his space.
Skipper Stiliyan Petrov bamboozled Gael Givet by flicking the ball over his head in the Rovers half and jockeyed towards goal only to fire straight into Robinson`s chest. Perhaps the better alternative was to square to Bent who found himself in acres of space in the penalty area.
Villa started off the second-half by dictating possession and went a goal in-front in the 48th minute thanks to you know who? Darren Bent. Barry Bannan, who had been a pivotal figure throughout the game, steered a delightful cross into the danger zone for Benty to get the slightest of touches and guide the ball past Robinson`s right-hand side. Luke Young who had been excellent throughout started off the move by cutting inside from the right to link up with Heskey who picked out Bannan to tee up the subsequent assist.
The game itself began to peter out as the humid conditions drained both sets of players. Villa still continued to impress on the ball with some neat intricate passing. The defence looked as rigorous as it has for a considerable amount of time. Richard Dunne and James Collins looked to be getting back to their best with both full-backs Luke Young and in particular Stephen Warnock, excelling throughout the ninety. Incidentally Shay Given produced a moment of sheer class to dive full stretch to his right to claw Brett Emerton`s curler out of the air.
Marc Albrighton who came on midway through the second-half for the impressive Barry Bannan, stung the fingers of Robinson with a fierce right-footed drive just outside the penalty area, capitalising on an error by Emerton.
The claret and blue boys held on for the win and will play either Chelsea or Kitchee in Saturday`s final. An impressive display mixed with efficiency and a sprinkle of flair.
Two wins out of two for Big Eck. More of the same please!