Solano puts spotlight on Villa's woes - 03/02/2005
David O'Leary called Nolberto Solano "a little diamond" but, behind the enthusiasm and the euphoria of this dramatic victory, the commendation seemed to emphasise everything that is wrong about Aston Villa this season.
Solano, whose form on the right flank in recent matches has been superlative, is now Villa's leading Premiership scorer with five goals. Lee Hendrie, another midfield player, is in second place with four goals.
As O'Leary, the Villa manager, said, "It is a poor thing that Nolberto is your top goalscorer at the halfway mark of the season." Which, of course, is just another way of saying, "Mr chairman, please blow the dust off your chequebook because it is time to spend some money."
It was Solano's goal, with a close-range header from a corner by Gareth Barry in the 88th minute, that gave Villa this deserved victory against Blackburn Rovers but all the talk around Villa Park was of which players, if any, would be signed now that the transfer window has opened.
When 14 of your 23 Premiership goals have come from midfield players, another three from Olof Mellberg (a defender), and just six from your three main strikers, it is obvious which position requires strengthening.
"This tells me we need players all over the pitch and a striker because we have only got two in Juan Pablo Angel and Darius Vassell, plus a lad on loan in Carlton Cole," O'Leary said, wearily.
The need for James Beattie, who last night joined Everton, was never been greater but, for now, it would be more prudent to eulogise the art and industry of Solano, the Peru international winger, who seems to boast that perfect mix of South American talent and British mentality.
Villa are not a one-man team but it would be better if we did not consider where the team would be without Solano. Certainly they would not be in the top half of the Premiership table.
"Nolberto gives you that little bit of creativity on the right hand side," O'Leary said. "He gives you that ball into the box, that balance on the right hand side, and he is always likely to do something."
It was Solano who masterminded a dominant secondhalf display from Villa after a first half that was forgotten the moment the referee blew the whistle for half-time.
In driving rain, it was Blackburn who played the better football of the opening period, and it was they who came closest to scoring, when, in the 35th minute, Nils-Eric Johansson's header from a corner by Brett Emerton struck the post.
But while the timing of Villa's goal was frustrating from Blackburn's point of view, the visitors could not complain at the result. Villa, buoyed by the return of Gavin McCann in midfield, and the presence of Hendrie alongside him, played at a higher tempo in the second half and gained their just reward. Eventually.
With just two minutes remaining, and frustration threatening to engulf Villa Park, Solano won the race to the cross by Barry and forced the ball home from close range.
That the smallest man on the pitch could score such a goal says more for Blackburn's bad defending than for Barry's corner but this was a clear case of the Holte End sucking the ball home.
This goal was enough to put Villa back above Birmingham in the Premiership table, which means much at Villa Park.
"We dominated possession and Blackburn would have been delighted with a draw," O'Leary said. "The goal came from such an unlikely source - a header from Nolberto.
"I definitely thought I was going to saying that we had totally dominated the game but could not score. We have been struggling to score goals and it would have been a shame to be talking about not taking the three points."
Indeed it would, but with Mellberg and Liam Ridgewell dominant at the back and the midfield players dictating the pace of play, it was hard to see how Villa could fail to secure the points.
The problem is that the failure of the strikers to score is putting pressure on everybody else. Angel has been out of sorts for months, Darius Vassell has been injured since October, and Carlton Cole seems to be fighting a lack of confidence.
That is why O'Leary's failure to take Beattie from Southampton has significant consequences. A European place is there for the taking but only if the Villa strikers can perform as well as the midfield players.
Now O'Leary must look elsewhere.
Scorer: Solano (88).
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Sorensen; de la Cruz, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Samuel; Solano, McCann, Hendrie, Barry; Angel, L Moore (Davis, 90). Subs: Delaney, Postma, Berson, S Moore.
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-2): Friedel; Neill, Johansson, Todd, Matteo; Reid (Thompson, 60), Flitcroft, Ferguson, Emerton; Dickov, Stead (Gallagher, 59). Subs: Enckelman, Pedersen, McEveley. Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire). Bookings: Villa - McCann (foul);
Blackburn - Dickov (ungentlemanly conduct). Attendance: 34,265.
Villa man of the match: Nolberto Solano - a bastion of creativity. Deserved his goal.
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