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Match Preview: Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa


ChrisVillan
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A holiday weekend of two games in three days for Villa begins at Ewood Park.

Before I start, please note that any team news which may or may not be forthcoming in this match preview is merely speculation, as it hasn't appeared yet on the websites I would usually use on a Friday. This preview, for our umpteenth trip to the north west this season, is a touch early, but them's the breaks, as Tommy Saxondale would say.

After Gabriel Agbonlahor's nudge home at the death earned Villa a late - and undeniably valuable - point at Villa Park against Everton on Monday, the momentum must continue into Saturday's game against Blackburn Rovers in order to see Villa pull away from the relegation battle once and for all. Villa currently sit slightly precariously in 14th spot, with seven to play. I said earlier in the season that 37 points would mean safety for the teams in the scrap at the bottom, but given the form of Charlton Athletic I now think 38 or 39 points is a more likely threshold. Charlton, incidentally, see us very much as one of the clubs involved. Villa have 35 points in the bag, five more than a resurgent Athletic side, and so two wins would see us well clear of danger.

For their part, Blackburn are in 10th place on 40 points and in truth are probably just too far behind Tottenham Hotspur to grab the final guaranteed UEFA Cup spot. However, Rovers have another possible route back into Europe: the FA Cup. A superb FA Cup run has seen Mark Hughes' side earn a home semi-final tie with Chelsea which will be played at Old Trafford on 15th April (Villa Park has the ever-pleasant experience of hosting Manchester United's fans on the day before, against Watford). This could be a good sign for Villa, with the FA Cup latter stages being a notorious distraction to the sides involved. Obviously I wouldn't be mentioning that to the Villa players, though.

The BBC Sport blurb on this game makes interesting reading. Blackburn have lost their last two matches, against Manchester United and West Ham United, having netted first in both. This is perhaps surprising, with Hughes' men letting their reputation as a physical, battling side slide a little. Maybe they are not so tough to beat as they have been in recent seasons. Looking at their last two opponents, it would seem that Blackburn can be both outfought (West Ham) and outplayed (Manchester United). Importantly, they rarely draw, so it may be all or nothing for Villa for once.

On the face of it this game is winnable. Blackburn's form is not what it was in the middle of this season. Their FA Cup run seems to have detracted from their league performances and the loss of Robbie Savage in midfield would appear to have hit them hard. They have some excellent players, such as Benni McCarthy, Morten Gamst Pedersen and an aging Tugay, but they seem to have lost a bit of their infamous 'fight'. I have no doubt that, with the league table pinned to his wall, Martin O'Neill has this one ringed on his fixture list as a possible maximum for Villa, and rightly so.

One thing is for sure: if Villa are going to win this game, and indeed Monday's home match with Wigan Athletic (another one marked 'should win', I would hope), they have to play for 90 minutes. The talk of the difference between first and secold halves on Monday was overwhelming as I left Villa Park, and has been acknowledged by O'Neill and in particular Wilfred Bouma this week. Villa's first half was dreadful against Everton. The midfield struggled to get to grips with the game and the defending which allowed Joleon Lescott to head past Thomas Sorensen at the Holte End was woeful. The second half was better, with Patrik Berger influencial and Stiliyan Petrov following up his worst half in a Villa shirt with one of his best. The draw in the end was deserved.

Whatever Martin O'Neill shouted or threw at the players at half time did the trick on Monday night but we're not in a position to be showing up for 45 minutes at a time. If Villa can play a full match like the second half against Everton, we will beat Blackburn and then go on to beat Wigan. I read someone post on VillaTalk that this poor run can't go on forever and I agree wholeheartedly with that. The elusive win is just around the corner, and after a brief but serious relegation scare at half time against the Toffees, I can just see Villa nicking this one.

My prediction for this game, then, is a battling 1-0 away win for the Villa. That'll make it three defeats in a row for Blackburn as they concentrate on Chelsea the following week. I'm going to stick my neck out and predict a winning first half goal from Shaun Maloney and a gritty, determined performance as we hold Blackburn off throughout the second half. Here's hoping. Lawro has gone for an away win too, opting though for 2-1 as his scoreline.

If you're going up to Blackburn on Saturday, I hope it is an enjoyable trip and the boys make you proud.

Come on you Villa boys!

ChrisVillan

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I think that if we win, it will be by more than one goal, as Blackburn are unlikely to show the patience to fight back from one down without making for a very thin backline, and their defence has lokked even worse than ours at some stages of the season.

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