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Rovers return for a third Villa Park cup exit!


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This certainly was a game of two halves and it was a game that has left us as the team that has knocked our visitors out of the last three cup competitions they have entered. They must welcome drawing us as much as we do drawing Manchester United in cup competitions!

What a non-performance the first half was. A sparse crowd of 18,753 witnessed a partly rotated starting eleven that still contained something approaching half of our usual first team starters give what appeared to be a performance that demonstrated the lack of importance that they as players and clubs in general now seem to put on progressing in this competition along in some cases with what appeared to be a lack of understanding of what was expected of them in the role they had been asked to fill last night. The chances of another Wembley appearance in this cup competition that we have a proud record in seemed as non-existent at half time as was the atmosphere within the ground and the creativity from our midfield.

But, whether it was stern words or flying tea cups or the way we changed our shape at half time or a combination of all three we came out to play in the second half. The substitution that brought Emile Heskey into the fray then proved to be the inspired, decisive and crucial decision that ultimately decided the outcome of the game. Rovers just could not cope with Emile the Effective and a team that had appeared on the verge of surrender during the first half performed like lions in the second. What a welcome surprise that was.

My player ratings from Gerard Houllier’s first game as our manager are:

Brad Guzan – 6 – Remains some way off the exceptional keeper he had appeared up until last season but this was an improved display on his recent cup outings but there does remain a rehabilitation to be fully completed. Hopefully in time Gerard and his backroom team can restore his confidence to what it was.

Eric Lichaj - 6 – Decent enough performance at the back nice to see he has a long throw in his armoury but he did overdo it a bit as for me this should be used more often in the opposition half than in our own when we need to ensure we keep possession from the throw.

Ciaran Clark – 6 – Another solid display from this good young prospect prior to his 76th minute substitution.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Will only improve with this and with other first team outings in our central defence. Solid and will present a threat to our regular central pairing.

Stephen Warnock - 6 – A competent performance.

Barry Bannan – 6 – Grew in stature in the second half and seemed more comfortable when in a wide position than he had been when in a more central role in the first half. Forced a good save from the keeper on 65 minutes when his shot had seemed destined for the net and was then unlucky with 4 minutes of normal time left to see his goal bound shot deflected over the bar by a defender.

Nigel Reo Coker – 6 – Much more effective for us in the second half when he was pushed into a more prominent forward midfield position than the deeper role he occupied in the first half when he was much less involved in the game.

Steve Sidwell - 6 – Got better and grew in confidence as the game wore on. Hit a decent shot just over the bar on 21 minutes and needs first team games like this.

Ashley Young – 8 – Our two goal hero cannot have failed to impress the new management team last night and was one of the few who were up for this game throughout. Hit our first shot on target on 10 minutes but that was straight at their keeper Bunn who comfortably held onto it. Made our first goal and scored our second and third having done well to squeeze a header from Delfouneso’s cross between the keeper and his near post for our second goal on 75 minutes and then finished the game off 2 minutes later when applying a good finish to Emile’s cross. Near to a hat-trick on 79 minutes when he cut inside and hit a good effort just over the bar.

John Carew – 6 – Worked hard and was clearly keen to impress the new management often appearing as our lone striker in the first half with Gabby dropping back regularly during the first half hour. Substituted on 57 minutes without having found the cutting edge to round off what had been a hard working and solid display during a period when the team in general was a long way short of its best.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Lasted just over a half hour before a knock led to his going off after some good effort although for me he needs to be kept in the middle where he can do the most damage rather than wide or behind the front of our forward line.

Substitutes:

Nathan Delfouneso – 6 – Replaced Gabby on 31 minutes. Gave us some much needed width in the second half and hit a good cross on 75 minutes that Ashley Young headed home for our second goal.

Emile Heskey – 8 – MOTM - Replaced Big John on 57 minutes and his introduction changed the course of the game. Emile looked a real player last night and this was I would suggest his best performance in our shirt. In what might prove Gabby’s absence on Sunday I would start him and ask him to carry on where he left off last night. Ran onto a ball that Ashley Young threaded through to him from just inside the Blackburn half just a minute after he had come off the bench and then applied a sweet finish to put the ball into the far corner of the net having left Bunn wrong footed as he had anticipated Emile would go for his near post. Involved in the build up for our second goal on 75 minutes and then 2 minutes later won the ball in the air (not for the only time last night) and then moved wide hitting a splendid cross into the box that Ashley Young hit into the net at the back post.

Curtis Davies – 6 - Replaced Clark on 76 minutes and looked better than he has done for a while last night although Blackburn were mostly on the back foot by then.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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