Remember last week, when we were positively ecstatic over a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, even though we lost a lead? Yeah, I'd like to go back and just watch that game again. This one? Was dire.
First of all, it's never good to see the lineups and learn that Marc Albrighton is ill--again. Perhaps he has a weakened immune system. Or maybe he forgot his nightlight. Whatever it was, though, bringing elf-boy into this lineup would not have changed the result.
We could talk about tactics or creativity until we're blue in the face, but the real problem in this match is that Aston Villa were out-muscled. Blackburn are a strong, physical side, and it appeared that most of them were a foot taller than the slight figures in claret and blue. Usually Villa are able to outrun and outsmart the other side, but it seemed every time they got the ball, there came a Rover to steal it.
To be fair, there were some nice moments of possession, in which the Villa looked sharp, aware of their teammates and able to send the ball to exactly where a claret shirt would be arriving. But whenever the ball found its way into the box, it either met a way-too-good Paul Robinson or a Blackburn head. For some reason, Villa simply couldn't grasp the concept that crosses and lofted balls were not going to find their way into the net.
On the other end, it was the set-pieces that destroyed Villa. Stephen Warnock gave away a needless free kick moments before the second half started, and Morten Gamst Pedersen sent a beautiful curling ball in. Brad Friedel could only get a hand on it as it fell into the back of the net. Pedersen struck again in the second half when Villa failed to clear the ball from a corner.
While Richard Dunne finally appeared alert and alive, both pressing forward and saving a near-certain goal with a last-moment sliding tackle, the rest of the defense was atrocious. Luke Young certainly shouldn't have allowed the ball to fall to Pedersen for the second goal, and regularly appeared not to even notice that there was a man just behind or to the side of him. Ciaran Clark looked decidedly average, which is fair for such a young player, but also managed to let the ball slip away too easily. Warnock's actual defending was nothing to criticize, and he's managing to both get forward and make his way back to add coverage, but for goodness sake the man needs to stop conceding stupid fouls.
And of course there was Stephen Ireland. I don't like to say I told you so but...wow. What a complete and total disappointment. In fact, the sole reason to have Albrighton on the pitch today would have been to keep Ireland off it. Any time that I allowed myself to think, "Gee, Ireland is playing adequately," he either passed the ball to no one or failed to collect a ball to him. When 37-year-old Robert Pires comes in for the last 22 minutes of a game and has more of an impact than Ireland had in the other 68, it's time to just cut our losses and let him go. Pay someone to take him, even. His entire function is to make up the numbers.
In happier news, even if no one managed to finish, at least there were a few bright spots on the field. Ashley Young performed a brilliant bit of trickery, fooling Michel Salgado not once but twice before launching a shot on goal. Stewart Downing has been the best player at Villa all season, and while he was forced to do a bit more defending in the first half than I would have liked, he's still got a great read of the game, knows where he needs to be, and at least created opportunities--once that should have been goals, considering Robinson could do little more than swat them away, but no Villa players were able to capitalize on the loose balls. And there's still Barry Bannan. It's easy to forget about a tiny midfielder whose main role is to get the ball to others, but he's on his way to perfection. He's composed, able to wait a moment before finding the optimal pass. He's tricky, putting in tiny looped balls rather than inaccurate crosses (although he likely put forth too many crosses in the first half, considering Blackburn was much better at dealing with the high balls). Finally, he got in a shot from distance that I thought landed in the corner of the net...unfortunately, it went just wide and caused Bazza to pull his kit up over his head.
Poor Bazza. Poor Villans. We all need a hug.