This was the game which, in my eyes, proved what most Villa fans would have been thinking for a few weeks - without serious squad improvement we are nowhere near good enough to finish fourth. Blackburn, Bentley and Santa Cruz apart, a solid is unspectacular yet they contained us for large parts of the game. In fact without Ashley Young and Laursen we would have lost it. What disappointed me most about yesterday is that with Carson's penalty save we were given a lifeline and massive opportunity to kickstart our performance. Instead we just continued with a lethargic, limited style of play that you will never see at Anfield or White Hart Lane but has been worringly prevalent down the Villa recently.
The problems for us in this game clearly lay in midfield, which was changed twice during the course of the match. For all his industry, Stilian Petrov played few incisive passes and took up few telling advanced positions. Our captain lacked his usual composure on the ball, maybe the Capello effect or his injury is to blame but we really need Barry to capture his early season form. After his man of the match performance at Anfield Reo-Coker has a frustrating game; giving away a penalty amid countless other needless free-kicks. The formation Blackburn lined up with was designed to frustrate us like this and there was no need for a holding player in such a game, I think we would have benefitted from taking Reo-Coker off, though that would have left us more exposed at the back.
The one shining light in midfield was Ashley on the wing. Throughout the game he displayed his usual blend of awareness and craft, capped by a stunning free-kick to rescue a point which he almost turned into three with another stoppage time set-piece effort. Our best moment of the first half was also one of his free-kicks, superbly directed away from goal by Stephen Reid. Capello could not have failed to have been impressed by this display from Young: he carried the ball well, beat players, used it intelligently and, again, made incisive contributions to its outcome. He looked fully capable of making the step up. Sadly Gabby had his worst game of the season yesterday, and the second worst was the last time Capello turned up. Maybe he is tired, maybe teams are working us out, or maybe this is just a natural hiccup in an otherwise steady progression to stardom. Hopefully the emergence of Harewood as a genuine threat to his preferred starting role up front will give Gabby renewed zest.
Yesterday may have been the last time we see Olof Mellberg in a Villa shirt. We can only thank the Viking for his commitment to Villa during some hard years, in which he was one of the few players who deserved better. Nobody could deny him the chance to move to a genuine European giant like Juventus, and I hope he is a success over there, if he does leave in the next few days. Who could forget his anti-Blues rants, even if they did inspire the enemy. I get the feeling I just don't like them either Olof, good luck and thank you. Thankfully we have a ready made Scandinavian defensive hero replacement in Martin Laursen, imagine if both had played together for the last few years. Yesterday he made a saving tackle of such precision and grace it was breathtaking. Santa Cruz was dangerous for Blackburn and gave both our centre-backs problems, but Laursen still won pretty much everything in the air.
Missing this chance to move up into fourth was disappointing, but we must improve in strength and depth if we are to ever be serious challengers to the Champions League and a few results like this along the way are a healthy reminder of where we are. O'Neill cannot keep performing miracles and surely we will boost the squad before the end of this transfer window. Otherwise performances like this may become the norm rather than the exception for this side.