Aston Villa 2 – 1 Blackburn Rovers
After the defeat at Preston, the play-offs seemed a distant dream. Now, a month or so later, they are within touching distance. Fourteenth, Villa sit just five points behind Leeds United. The international break couldn’t have come at a worse time.
An unexceptional first half gave way to an invigorated second half performance, giving three fully deserved points. There was much ado about nothing in the first forty-five minutes. Pierluigi Gollini saved well from Gallagher, Kodjia had his effort stopped by Steele. The sides were trading what few chances there were. All huff and puff but nowhere near enough quality.
The first target of the day was achieved. We’d kept it tight and not conceded but gone too far in the defensive direction. The attacking element of the Villa game was stifled and needed to be unleashed. Bruce did exactly that at half-time with the second half performance a vast improvement on the first.
There was more energy and purpose in the runs, a bit of zip in the passes. McCormack had produced little of note save for one effort when he should have done better although the lino’s flag would have ruined it anyway. He gave way to Gabby Agbonlahor with about twenty-five minutes to go. The former England Under-23 international’s redemption continues unabated.
Yet against the run of play, Blackburn took the lead. The lively Gallagher headed home ten minutes into the second half with Gollini unable to stop his effort. The corner from Mulgrew was superb and the finish worthy of the goal it claimed.
The bad old days? It didn’t feel like it and Rovers position in the Championship certainly isn’t false. They aren’t a strong side, too easily pegged back and possession quickly ceded.
The response was quick. Jack Grealish’s run was unceremoniously stopped in the Rovers area, unfairly so in the official’s eyes and you’ll hear no complaints from me about the decision. Kodjia drove home the spot kick beyond the flailing grasp of Steele.
With Blackburn, it was a question of when not if Villa scored at least one more. The answer arrived with twenty minutes to go. Jedinak released Kodjia and the striker curled home as Steele came to meet him. 2 – 1, noses in front and from that point, rarely troubled. Not trouble-free, Rovers came at Villa but the back four – five when Tommy Elphick joined the fray as injury time approached – coped with everything Blackburn threw at them relatively comfortably.
Bruce’s reign has begun with eleven points from fifteen with the two draws in local derbies. I don’t think we could have asked for more. And given where the club was, I am not complaining. The question is whether we can keep the momentum going after the international break? Trips to Brighton and Leeds are going to be tough and the players will need to dig in deep to take anything from those matches.
However thanks to the energy and Bruce has instilled in the squad, we can go into the games with some justifiable hope of taking something from them.