I was planning to write a conventional, in-depth review of this game but I just can't do it. Not because I'm sad or disappointed; to be honest I was half expecting a loss in this game and it happened in pretty much the exact way I thought it would. Villa were out-sized and the game was over as soon as Blackburn went ahead. If Villa have Emile Heskey or John Carew this game might have played out differently, but they didn't. The reason I can't write a recap of this game is far simpler; there's not really anything to recap. You want to know what happened? Okay, for 46+ minutes there was nothing. Then Blackburn scored on a free kick. Then there was some more nothing, then Blackburn scored off a corner, then there was about half an hour's worth of nothing, then the whistle blew. See? Not such interesting reading.
The positive thing about tremendously boring games from a writing perspective is that you can focus on very specific things. You have longer to dwell on things that you might forget pretty quickly were the game more compelling.It's easier to notice the the nuance in the performance of individual players. To follow are some thoughts and observations that came to me during the game.
Stephen Ireland is terrible. Whenever he is in the game he's the worst player on the pitch. His positive contribution for the day was a ball to Stewart Downing that nearly resulted in an early goal for Villa that pretty much any attacking player in the Premier League should be expected to provide. He was once again responsible for giving the ball away in key areas, his passing was terrible and he made some absolutely bizarre decisions in terms of distribution. At this point it's almost tempting to think that his one good year at Manchester City was a fluke, because he doesn't look like a player with anything to offer.
- Stephen Warnock played well enough last season to earn a trip to South Africa and a regular place in England's national team. He's a quality defensive player and one of the few constants this season amongst Villa's longer-tenured players. He's also finding himself prone to making incredibly stupid decisions. His foul that led to Blackburn's first goal was absolutely pointless, far dumber than Marc Albrighton's foul that led to Fulham's late equalizer and made worse because Warnock is a veteran and should know better. He was lucky to escape a second booking on several occasions despite leading the league in yellow cards and already missing one game with accumulation this season. Perhaps worst of all, the majority of his fouls are of the needless variety; he's not getting beaten and resorting to rash challenges, he's just being dumb. Hey Stephen-stop it.
- Brad Friedel got bullied today, plain and simple. Morten Gamst Pederson's free kick was well struck with some wicked curve, but it should have been saved. It wasn't saved because Friedel came out early in an attempt to punch the ball away before being forced to deal with Blackburn's big, physical players in yet another aerial confrontation. Friedel is an excellent keeper and we're lucky to have him, but this was not a good day for him.
- In a similar vein, someone should tell Aston Villa's wide players that their tallest target in the box is 5'11", not an inordinately great leaper and fairly slight of frame. Cross after cross after cross came in high, and almost without exception they were headed out of danger by Blackburn's much bigger defenders. This has been a recurring theme since Emile Heskey went down with injury, and it's incredibly frustrating. I've seen low crosses from Downing, Ashley Young, Luke Young and Warnock. I know they're capable of them. But time and again the supply is pumped in aerially, and it's not working. This team's ability to cross the ball is one of its most dangerous weapons, but by refusing to keep the ball low they're taking that facet of their game away all by themselves.
Jonathan Hogg looked far better today, which makes me think a lot of his poor play against Manchester United can be largely chalked up to jitters. There weren't any "wow" moments like we've seen with Barry Bannan, but he was solid.
- Speaking of looking far better, this was Richard Dunne's best game of the season by far. For the first time all year he looked like himself, and that's a pretty huge relief. I was beginning to worry that what we were seeing from Dunne was decline rather than injury, and the way he looked in this game took away some of those concerns.
- Robert Pires played. He appears to be familiar with the rules and general objective of the game of football.
- I don't know who the gentlemen in the broadcast booth were, but they were an absolute delight. From "One of these days the ball will go under that towel and disappear, and then we'll have the first magic footballer" to their discussion about whether Gael Givet would be sent off for ungentlemanly conduct after being taken out by referee Michael Oliver, they pretty consistently had me in stitches. Finding something interesting to talk about during a game like this one is a rare talent, and these two wonderful men were able to do so consistently. Bless them.