Blackburn 1-0 Aston Villa: Rovers still alive in relegation battle
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 29/04/17 6:56pm
Danny Graham's goal was enough to give Blackburn a vital 1-0 victory over Aston Villa to take the Sky Bet Championship relegation fight to the final day.
Having missed a sitter on the stroke of half-time, Blackburn's top scorer made up for it with a confident 54th-minute finish to provide three points their performance and bravery deserved.
Although the hosts did not test Sam Johnstone's goal a great deal, they pushed forward like a team determined to have no regrets and this win could be the most crucial in recent times.
It stretched their unbeaten run to five but the importance of the three points - their first at home in almost two months - is that Rovers are now in the bottom three on goal difference only.
Villa were lacklustre for large parts and they look like a team with only two away victories in 2017. Graham returned to the first XI in what was Blackburn's only change from the draw with Wolves. Aston Villa welcomed back top scorer Jonathan Kodjia from suspension in one of three changes from the derby victory over Birmingham last week.
Rovers started the game much better than their two previous Ewood Park outings, but early efforts from Danny Guthrie and Sam Gallagher missed the target while Darragh Lenihan saw his close-range shot deflected wide.
Set-pieces continued to provide Blackburn with openings. Johnstone's errant punch found Elliott Ward at the back post but he skewed wide.
Despite their dominance, it took 38 minutes for their first shot on goal but Johnstone saved superbly from Ryan Nyambe 12 yards out.
The atmosphere around the ground dipped towards the end of the half as news of relegation rivals Birmingham's opener filtered through, and Kodjia fired a warning of his own with a rasping drive that David Raya parried, moments before the goalkeeper smartly saved Henri Lansbury's free-kick.
Frustration grew on the stroke of half-time when Graham wriggled free of his marker inside the area, but with just the 'keeper to beat he completely missed his kick.
The Blackburn striker made up for that miss in the 54th minute though, when a poor Nathan Baker pass was pounced on by Jason Lowe and Graham swept home his low right-wing cross from 12 yards for his 13th goal of the season.
Lansbury saw a shot well blocked by Lenihan as Villa finally found some urgency but Rovers stood firm. At the other end, Gallagher's teasing cross was too heavy for Derrick Williams but the hosts, despite some nervy moments in their defence towards the end, held out to set up a dramatic final day of the season.
Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray:
"Danny Graham has been unavailable for most of my time at the football club and is way off fitness-wise where he should be, but players like Graham, when you need a goal and you need to win a football match, you have to have him on the pitch.
"The last couple of home games have been nervous for us, but I thought we started really well today on the front foot, played a lot of the first half in their half, asked questions of them. We really stuck to the game plan. We targeted Sam (Gallagher) against (Neil) Taylor a little bit, played off that on the front foot.
"Whilst it didn't get us a goal first half, it gave us a momentum that we took into the second half, got the goal and saw the game out."
Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce:
"If I'm going to be honest, too many times away from home in particular, we've managed to put in (that performance). I don't think quite as bad because that's arguably the worst we've played since I've been here, but a big club like ours, away from home, four wins all season, is nowhere near good enough to where we should be.
"Too many times I've seen us play the way we did today, where we haven't done enough in every department. We still have to improve because we can't be happy with mid-table in the Championship, a club like ours. We were absolutely hopeless. Hopeless."