Afternoon. Blackburn are in dangerous territory. They belong to a host of sides that, in theory, are too good to go down but instead find themselves positioned precariously. Currently 16th, if they lose to Aston Villa today and Fulham beat Manchester City later on, they will be a place and a point above Wigan, who are 18th. This is mostly down to the compact nature of the Premier League this season - just five points separate seventh-placed Sunderland and Wigan - and a win for Blackburn could see them rise to 10th. Managed by Sam Allardyce, they really ought to be too good to go down and, indeed, they have been pretty impressive at times this season. In fact, they've won two of their last three games. Sometimes, though, that's not enough, not when there's only one absolutely atrocious side in the league. It could be a nervy afternoon at Ewood Park then, especially if Villa show the sort of form that nearly embarrassed Manchester United last week. It was an uncharacteristically brave decision by the generally cautious Gerard Houllier to play such a thrillingly uninhibited young side against United and it was a huge shame that they lost their nerve at the end. Their lack of experience eventually told though, so there's really only one solution in these situations: Robert Pires.
Team news: Jason Roberts gets his first start of the season, maintaining his burgeoning bromance with Allardyce. For Villa, Pires starts on the bench. He did look in pretty good nick for Villarreal, but will he still be able to stand the pace of the Premier League? If he can, he could be a delight to watch - there aren't enough ageing stars in England any more. Every team needs a louche player who resembles a father showing off in a game with his kids.
Blackburn (4-4-1-1): Robinson; Salgado, Samba, Nelsen, Givet; El-Hadji Diouf, Jones, Pedersen Hoilett; Dunn; Roberts. Subs: Bunn, Kalinic, Goulon, Hanley, Morris, Chimbonda, Mame Diouf.
Aston Villa: Friedel; Luke Young, Dunne, Clark, Warnock; Ashley Young, Hogg, Bannan, Downing; Ireland; Agbonlahor. Subs: Guzan, Pires, Delfouneso, Osbourne, Lichaj, Herd, Lowry.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
Craig Bellamy is in the Sky Sports studio this afternoon. He's probably not here for this game though, what with Manchester City playing later. He was a bit late arriving though. Just off the golf course?
The first email of the day: "Pires starts on the bench?" asks Gary Naylor. "I do hope he lights up a Gitane after five minutes or so. What do you think a safe points tally will be this season? I recall a clubgoing down with 42 (was it?) and I suspect 42 will not be enough for 17th comeMay."
Yes, yes, it was West Ham who went down with 42 points which is still a record. Asking me to work out what teams will need is a problem as I'm terrible at maths, but I imagine teams will need a lot. Last season, West Ham stayed up with 35 points but I doubt that will be enough this season. It's starting to look like the current bottom three are going to go down, although Wigan and Wolves aren't even that bad. It's going to be awful timing for a couple of sides.
Peep! We're off. Blackburn, kicking off from left to right, get us underway. Their new owners were presented to the home fans before kick-off. Any chicken jokes are a straight red card today I'm afraid. I've heard enough this week. Enough.
2 min: A bright start by Blackburn. Roberts gets free down the right flank, and cuts the ball back for Pedersen, who's blocked by a fine challenge from Luke Young. The ball runs loose for Phil Jones, who's chopped down by Richard Dunne just outside the area. This is a very promising position for Blackburn...
3 min: It might have been promising, but that was about it. It appeared to be made for Pedersen to hit, but instead he spun round, touching the ball back to Christopher Samba - Christopher Samba - who smashes an awful effort well wide. Friedel hoofs the goal-kick up field. Ireland collects the ball in space in front of Blackburn's area, and lofts a gorgeous pass over Givet's head and into Downing's path. Downing is through on goal and races away from Givet, only for Robinson to block his poked effort behind for a corner.
5 min: Givet and Diouf are being horribly exposed by Downing at the moment. Ashley Young's fine, crossfield pass finds Downing again, this time out on the right touchline. He crosses to the far post for Bannan, who nods down for Ireland, who's unfortunately unable to bring the ball down. Villa look threatening.
7 min: A very open start, this one. Both sides are attacking with an attractive fluidity and Jones nearly plays Roberts in for a meeting with Friedel. The pass is just overhit though and the goalkeeper gathers. Hiya Jacob, hope you're well," says Silver Fox. You too. "As well as you can be for a Hammer anyway. Saw the 1st half last night and you were shocking in all honesty. I'm sure you will improve as the season goes on or the others will get worse.... I think 37 points will keep you up this season. Teams like Blackpool, Wolves, WBA, Wigan will struggle to pick up points as the season wears on. Hoping to see Pires get a runout at some point. We need a quality midfield player who can put their foot on the ball and slow it down. Bannan is a decent prospect but does go missing at times in games which is to be expected for his age."
9 min: From the right, Pedersen launches a long throw into Villa's six-yard box. It's headed away by Dunne to the edge of the area, where Salgado flattens the unfortunately-placed Ireland with a wild scissor kick. That actually sounds worse than it was - Salgado was actually trying to score with a highly ambitious attempt not really befitting of a veteran right-back, but only succeeded in connecting with Ireland. Free-kick to Villa, obviously.
11 min: "Woke up at 5.30am in San Francisco to see the Mark Albrighton show," says Bruce Trevithick. "I am thinking maybe back to bed now. Stephen Ireland, you're no Mark Albrighton!" It's actually been a fine start by Ireland, so stick with us. You might be surprised.
12 min: Villa are so dangerous on the counterattack. When a Blackburn attack breaks down, Warnock leads another menacing raid. He has options left and right, but chooses to try to release Agbonlahor into the Blackburn area. Nelsen's crucial intervention just prevents the pass from reaching the striker, but the ball runs loose for Bannan, who darts in from the right before firing a shot a few yards wide of Robinson's near post. Villa are on top.
14 min: Another chance for Villa after a move started by the expertbumbling first touch of referee Michael Oliver. With Givet about to meet a long ball on the halfway line, the backtracking referee shows a complete lack of spatial awareness and ends up colliding with the furious defender. The Blackburn fans are furious as Villa stream forward, the ball being worked to Ashley Young on the left. Having isolated Salgado, he twists inside and out, before whipping a cross-shot across goal that Robinson tips aside for a corner. Which is wasted by Downing and Luke Young. Robinson has been much the busier goalkeeper so far.
17 min: "By his own standards (referencing his atrocious display at Blackpool vs West Brom) he should send himself off for that," writes Luke Stevenson.
18 min: Now Villa come back into it, with Roberts doing what he does best. Dunn flicks a pass to him on the edge of the area and, quick as you like, Roberts suddenly spins away from Dunne and into the area. Just as he was about to shoot though, in came Stephen Warnock with a vital challenge, conceding a corner in the process. Friedel easily catches Pedersen's corner. A waste.
20 min: Blackburn need to sort themselves out when Villa counter. Time and time again, their midfield is being caught out when their own attacks break down and Villa have the speed to punish them. This time Downing slipped a pass inside for Ireland. With time, he coaxed a cute pass to Agbonlahor in space on the edge of the area, but his touch was careless, allowing Nelsen to recover and avert the danger. But once again, where was Blackburn's midfield?
22 min: Blackburn's main method of attack so far has been Pedersen's long throws. From the latest one, there's a spot of slapstick defending as Friedel rushes off his line and sends his punch on to the back of the unsuspecting Warnock's head. Luckily the ball is just about cleared to the edge of the area, where Blackburn manage to work an opening for Givet, who shanks an atrocious volley wide right. That was a chance. But then Givet's a jobbing left-back, so what did you expect?
24 min: "I am not sure if this was the lingering after effects of a recent illness but I have the worrying feeling that Shearer's criticism of Capello meant he was throwing his hat in the ring for the England job," writes Ian Copestake. It's Operation Blame the Foreign Man, remember?
25 min: Friedel's flapping again. A long free-kick is launched into the heart of Blackburn's area. Friedel comes to collect, this time running into one of his own defenders and conceding a corner unintentionally. Pedersen whips it towards the near post from the right - Warnock's clearing header is poor, towards the centre of the area. It falls to the unmarked Hoillet but again the volley is sliced wide.
27 min: Again Blackburn's rudimentary approach causes problems for Friedel. They're really crowding him out, like in the game against Fulham earlier this season when Mark Schwarzer was bumped and buffeted about by Diouf. This time, though, Dunn concedes a foul for backing into the goalkeeper.
28 min: Oh dear. Farcical stuff from Ashley Young and Agbonlahor. A searching ball over the top from Ireland sets both racing behind the Blackburn defence. Samba was the only defender, but Young was offside and ahead of Agbonlahor, who had time his run to perfection. The flag stays down though as neither attacker had touched the ball. Agbonlahor leaves the ball for Young, presumably thinking his colleague had a better chance of scoring, which was only because he was offside. So when Young does touch the ball, the flag goes up to the derision of the home crowd. That should have been set to circus music.
32 min: Warnock concedes a foolish foul for a trip on Diouf on the right touchline. Pedersen whips the ball in towards the far post, and Roberts gets ahead of his marker to glance a header just over the bar. Friedel wasn't particularly worried though.
33 min: Blackburn are dominating right now, their pressing Villa back, but the visitors remain a threat on the break. Downing steps in to intercept a loose pass in midfield and immediately curls the ball in the direction of Agbonlahor who has the pace required to outstrip the Blackburn defence. Luckily for the home side though, Robinson was acting as a quasi-sweeper and is quick off his line to lump the ball out for a throw-in.
35 min: This is a nearly game and this is a nearly moment. On the left, Young clips a ball over Samba's head only for Agbonlahor's loose touch to allow the pass to skip all the way through to Robinson. This game needs the cerebral, light touch of, say, Robert Pires.
36 min: Blackburn's tactics are mind-numbing at times. It's not difficult to see why England struggle against teams who can pass the ball. Blackburn had a free-kick midway inside their own half, so all the big men trundle forward from the back and Robinson launches a long ball all the way through to Friedel. What's the point?
37 min: Agbonlahor whips a low cross towards the near post. Ashley Young controls the ball but expert defending from Salgado ensures Young is unable to turn and shoot. Eventually he falls over, conceding a free-kick for handball. Ah, the value of experience.
39 min: "Good luck to you and all those being paid to watch this," says Jason Kennedy, who's on the money here. "Lots of speed, no technique." This is tepid.
40 min: One bright spot has been Bannan in Villa's midfield. He carries himself about the pitch well, passing crisply and intelligently. This is the first time I've seen him play but those saying he's like Paul Scholes are mistaken - I haven't seen one crude lunge yet.
41 min: Hoillet crosses towards the far post from the left. Diouf wins his header, but Clark manages to head up into the air two yards away from his own goal, and Friedel relieves the pressure with a confident catch.
42 min: Ireland, who has drifted out of the game after a delightful start to the game, meets Ashley Young's cross with a header that loops well over.
43 min: Awful from Downing. Ireland sets him haring away down the right. With team-mates streaming into the cross, there are a multitude of options for Downing to opt for. The most obvious one is an exceedingly simple pass to Hogg, who had made a late, unnoticed run on the edge of the area. Instead Downing tries to shoot, Givet blocks easily and the chance is gone.
45 min: We'll have a minimum of one minute which, frankly, is too much.
GOAL! Blackburn 1-0 Aston Villa (Pedersen 45 min+2) With the half meandering to a feeble end, Villa concede the softest of goals. Warnock was the first man to err, fouling Diouf on the right flank when the attacker was going nowhere. That was utterly needless as the referee was surely about to blow for half-time. Instead he blows for a free-kick. From the right, Pedersen curls the ball towards the far post, where a throng of players are waiting. The delivery is over-hit but catches out Friedel, who has looked dodgy all afternoon, and flies into the top corner. Friedel, realising he had been caught out of position, backtracked furiously, but was only able to help it in on its way. Houllier will be furious.
Peep! Peep! And with that, Michael Oliver brings the half to a close. Blackburn lead, somewhat undeservedly.
Here are some half-time messages:
"When keepers get old, their eyes go and they can't judge distance," says Gary Naylor. Remember David Seaman?"
"It does make me chuckle that when McLaren left England there was a huge clamour for Allardyce to be appointed," says Silver Fox. "His only tactic appears to be 'lump it into the mixer'. Not that Mr Hat has done any better if Wednesday night is anything to go by. Shocking 1st half though. Not really been putting 100% effort into watching it. I'd say about 40% of my attention has been expended on the 1st half. And then we concede to a goalkeeping howler. Top way to end the half..." A fitting way to end the half, I'd say. Surely Blackburn fans can't enjoy watching this every week? The worst thing about this style of football is that Owen Coyle has proven at Bolton that it doesn't have to be this way. Allardyce is dreaming if he thinks he could succeed at Real Madrid.
"Your opinion desired," lies Paul Szabo. "Are, in fact, these players actually capable of passing the ball, and it is the team/coach/tactics that stops such from occurring? Or have these various fellows simply never learned how to do that?" It depends. The English players are demonstrably lacking in technique - Young and Downing are fast, but they repeatedly make the wrong decisions in front of goal. And too often, promising attacks end when the pass isn't timed quite right. Without wishing to gush about Barcelona, it's notable that their slickness is mainly down to players not having to stop and check back because a pass has been played slightly behind them. It's always moved into their path, allowing them to continue their run.
"Alan Shearer for England manager might not be as improbable as it sounds," says Mark Elliott. "England, despite delusions of being Real Madrid or United, are in reality Newcastle. A team with great support, but little achievement which was mostly in the dim and distant past. They are also convinced that if they can only find the right big name manager all their troubles will be solved. OK Shearer's not exactly a big name manager, but if you can't find one go with the local legend." Shearer wasn't exactly a roaring success at Newcastle though.
46 min: A change for Blackburn at half-time. Pascal Chimbonda is on for Givet, who had that clownish collision with the referee. He's not appeared, though, because he's been taken ill.
47 min: Ewood Park is ridiculously quiet. It's actually quite unsettling.
48 min: How on earth have Villa not equalised? Two chances in quick succession, but neither brings an equaliser. First Bannan and Ireland combine in the centre, the ball worked out to Ashley Young on the left. He drops the shoulder, swerving away from Salgado and on to his right foot. From the edge of the area, Robinson parries his firm effort straight out, and no Villa player can stick the rebound away. Immediately Downing collects the ball on the right, and he pings a cross into the centre, and again Ashley Young is left cursing his luck as his header clunks against the face of the bar, with Robinson beaten.
51 min: "While I appreciate the England-are-Newcastle comparison it does Newcastle supporters a terrible disservice," says Ian Copestake. "Magpies followers have a sense of humour whereas England supporters just sing world war two songs very loud." Roberts finds space on the left and cuts inside Clark, before slashing an awfully wonky shot high and wide. His blushes are ever-so-slightly spared though as the shot didn't go out for a throw-in.
52 min: 25 yards out, Jones jinks past Bannan and fires a low skimmer straight at Friedel.
53 min: Villa are exerting a lot of pressure now, having reverted to a 4-4-2. Hogg has moved to the left, with Ashley Young pushing forward in support of Agbonlahor, who has been too isolated thus far. Blackburn are creaking a little.
55 min: One-way traffic at the moment, with Ireland influential. He moves the ball to Ashley Young, but this time his shot from 25 yards out is firmly blocked by a Blackburn body.
56 min: Chimbonda wins a throw on the left flank. Luke Young heads another Pedersen missile away. Maybe Barton punched Pedersen because he was offended by all the long throws. It's deathly stuff.
58 min: Blackburn are sitting very deep at the moment. Villa are picking up all the second balls outside Blackburn's area at the moment. Just to the left of Blackburn's area, Ashley Young wins a free-kick after a late tackle from Salgado.
59 min: Ashley Young takes the free-kick himself but can only smash a poor effort straight into the wall. "You're better than that, Ashley, you're better than that," a Villa fan has muttered somewhere, sadly shaking his head a little.
60 min: Roberts has made a career out of backing in, turning and bustling defenders out of the way. He's done it to ones more experienced than Clark, so there's no shame in falling for it. In a panic as Roberts races away, Clark cynically tugs him back and is booked.
61 min: Nearly a carbon copy of Blackburn's goal as Pedersen's free-kick, lower this time, bounces through the massed bodies and all the way to the far post. This time, Friedel saves very well, holding as it skipped up off the surface.
63 min: This is potentially a match-saving tackle from Dunne. Ireland dawdles on the ball in front of his own defence, allowing Roberts to outmuscle him and seize possession. Suddenly Villa are stretched, and Roberts slides an excellent pass through to Diouf on the right of the area. He bears down on goal but takes too much time, and Dunne gets across to take the sting out Diouf's shot. Friedel saves.
65 min: Blackburn substitution: Hoillet goes off, here comes Mame Biram Diouf.
GOAL! Blackburn 2-0 Aston Villa (Pedersen 66 min) This should be all over then, slightly against the run of play. From another Pedersen throw, Friedel was forced to punch behind for a corner. Dunn's corner was only headed 12 yards out to Chimbonda, whose volley was desperately blocked, only for it to spin to the unmarked Jones to the right of the area. He smashed the ball into the six-yard box, and Pedersen used the pace of the shot to turn it into the empty net.
68 min: Stephen Ireland is replaced by Robert Pires, his first appearance in English football since May 2006. He's booed by the Blackburn fans as he enters the fray. It's probably going to be too late for him to inspire Villa though.
69 min: Mame Diouf scoots down the right, running on to a superb reverse pass by Roberts. He slides the ball across to the other Diouf. Neither Diouf nor Chimbonda can work a shooting opportunity, so the ball is teed up for Jones who blazes wildly over. 2-0 up, he allows himself a rueful chuckle.
71 min: It's just not happening for Villa. They should have enough to finish in mid-table but with the table so tight, they could be dragged into murkier waters.
72 min: What a miss! Blackburn patiently wile away time on the right, before Salgado thinks "Enough of this tripe" and surges forward to whip in a cross to the far post. El-Hadji Diouf - the original Diouf, some might say - is waiting unmarked but somehow puts a free header wide of the near post when it was easier to score.
74 min: Villa go close again. It's not their day. Downing shuffles in from the right before unleashing a fierce drive from 25 yards out. It's straight down the throat of Robinson, who pushes the shot back straight out - but no Villa player could gobble up the rebound. Robinson puffs out his cheeks in relief.
76 min: Villa aren't going to do a Tottenham here. I neglected to mention that Herold Goulon was introduced a couple of minutes ago for Blackburn. He replaced Pedersen, whose double looks likely to settle this game.
78 min: More in hope than expectation, this: Agbonlahor trots off, Nathan Delfouneso scampers on. He'll have that eagerness drummed out of him soon enough.
79 min: Delfouneso threatens immediately. Luke Young chips a floater towards Delfouneso, who's peeled off the back of Nelsen. He should take the ball down though, but instead he tries to score with a header when there was no pace on the ball and the effort drops harmlessly wide.
81 min: Villa have a corner. But first, they make a substitution: Chris Herd comes on for Jonathan Hogg. And Herd nearly makes an instant impact! Ashley Young clips the corner in from the right and Herd meets it on the full at the far post, but is denied as Salgado hacks clear on the line. Villa don't deserve to be losing this, which isn't really much of a consolation for them.
83 min: Villa want a penalty for a handball by Jones. But it would have been harsh. Ashley Young's hard cross from the byline was blocked by Nelsen and on to Jones's outstretched arm. There wasn't much he could have done about that. From the resulting corner, Blackburn get the ball clear again.
85 min: "I do think we'll have enough to finish mid table," says Silver Fox. "We've got a few players to come back and hopefully Houllier will pick up a couple in January. I think we'll be between 11-15 in the table at the end of the season. Today is defintely not our day though. We do seem to be getting over-run by bigger, more powerful teams lately." Ashley Young fires in another cross, but Robinson plunges down low to quell another promising situation for Villa.
86 min: Bannan nearly finds Delfouneso with a difficult pass. Nelsen sticks out a leg to deflect the ball behind for a corner. It's taken short and moved back to Bannan on the edge of the area. The youngster opens up his body and tries to curl a left-footer into the top-left corner, but it's not deliberate enough and drifts wide.
88 min: Downing has a sighter from 25 yards but it's deflected wide for a corner. Blackburn are penned in, but Villa are unable to test Robinson despite a period of concerted pressure - and then play is stopped due to an injury for Goulon.
90 min: "Palace went down with 49 points in 92/93," points out Andrew Clark. "Oldham won their last 3 games to beat them on goal diff but went down a year later - never to return." A record in a 20-team league. There were 22 in those days. More teams, more games, more points.
90 min+1: More false dep't: there will be four minutes of stoppage time. Herd turns on the edge of the area and falls to the floor. No free-kick.
90 min+2: Understandably Pires has done nothing. It's questionable whether he and his team-mates will be able to operate on the same wavelength.
90 min+4: Pedersen, named man of the match, has already changed into his suit. That was quick. No team bath?
90 min+5: From the left of the area, Chimbonda curls woefully wide, not that it matters.
Peep! Peep! Peep! That's that. Michael Oliver blows for full-time and Blackburn have their third win in their last four games. They move up to 11th, while Villa drop to 13th. The visitors deserved a point, but their lack of experience was highlighted again. Thanks for all your emails. Bye.
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