x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Exciting times for Allardyce

The new Indian owners were there, but it was the same old Blackburn Rovers and it mattered little that Aston Villa were the neater side in possession.

Aston Villa's Stephen Ireland, right, and Blackburn Rovers' Michel Salgado battle for the ball.
Aston Villa's Stephen Ireland, right, and Blackburn Rovers' Michel Salgado battle for the ball.

New owners, but the same old Blackburn Rovers. The presence on the Ewood Park pitch of Balaji and Venkatesh Rao, the brothers who have become directors after the Indian poultry firm Venky's completed their takeover of the club, signalled the beginning of a new era in the boardroom.

If mentions of Indians in sport conjure images of the elegance of Sachin Tendulkar or the impish attacking of Virender Sehwag, Blackburn are the antidote. They remain Sam Allardyce's side and this represented a typical victory for the Rovers manager.

A brutal directness was allied with set-piece expertise. It mattered little that Aston Villa were the neater side in possession, technically superior and capable of the more flowing moves. Morten Gamst Pedersen's brace included excellence and opportunism, but both stemmed from dead-ball situations.

His opener was aided, albeit inadvertently, by two former team-mates.

One old Rover, Stephen Warnock, conceded a free kick. When Pedersen whipped it in, another, Brad Friedel, flailed helplessly at it. It was an embarrassment for the man who was arguably Rovers' greatest goalkeeper, but it represented an action replay; Pedersen had scored from a similarly acute angle against Wigan Athletic 15 days earlier.

His second was scruffier. When Villa were unable to clear David Dunn's corner, Pascal Chimbonda's shot was blocked, but Ryan Nelsen drilled the rebound goalwards and Pedersen extended a leg to divert it over the line.

The Norwegian winger now has four goals in four games while Blackburn have accumulated nine points in the same time.

"Now we're turning performances into results, which is the key thing," Allardyce said. "In possession and out of possession, it was a great performance."

Discussions with the Balaji brothers await in the forthcoming weeks. "I am excited," Allardyce added. "I wouldn't think a new owner of a football club would want to take it backwards."

His primary concern is financial. "All [the club has] been doing in the last three years or so is selling its major assets," he said. "I sold £33 million [Dh 193.6m] of players, before me there was another £20m. That's £50m-plus in two seasons, and the reinvestment has been £15m."

Shorn of 10 injured players, Villa were depleted for other reasons. They produced flurries at the start of either half when the pace and invention of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing on either flank threatened to reap a reward. Paul Robinson thwarted both in the first few minutes. Then, after the interval, he parried an effort from Young before the winger headed against the bar.

"Today we should have done better," Gerard Houllier, the Villa manager, said. "The performance against Manchester United [in last week's 2-2 draw] needs to be repeated if you want to step up a level. This was a different challenge, physically and mentally. As a team, we have to show more personality and more character."

The naivety of youth was interrupted by a brief debut for Robert Pires. Looking his 37 years, he was an incongruous sight amid the ferocious physicality. Ewood Park is no place for stately elegance.

sports@thenational.ae