Blackburn Rovers 2 Aston Villa 0

David O'Leary did not confess to having lost his lucky rabbit's foot or run over any four-leaf clovers on his way to Ewood Park.

But the Aston Villa manager must have wondering all the way back down the M6 on Saturday evening just what he had done to upset football's Gods of fortune.

Admittedly, Blackburn Rovers had lost only once at home in the top flight this season. But, with luck like this, you can see why.

Even by the standards of a Villa team who have proved hard to beat on the road this season, this was a very good performance by O'Leary's men. And, when he admitted to feeling mugged, you could entirely understand why.

From James Milner's late withdrawal to Milan Baros's missed chances, from Thomas Sorensen's goalkeeping cock-ups to the two crucial hand-ball decisions they suffered, nothing went Villa's way.

Villa would have equalled a club record which has stood for nearly 101 years had they avoided defeat. Not since the days of George Ramsay in 1904/05 had Villa managed to go nine away league games in the same season without losing. But the more missed chances they racked up, the more the writing was on the wall that history was not to be made this time.

Baros, who scored the only goal of the game to beat Rovers on his Villa debut last August, missed three great openings, but he was not the only culprit. And Villa's day was complete when Sorensen also had one of those nights.

Maybe it was simply the ghostly presence of the infamous Peter Enckelman sat on the Rovers bench that so spooked him. But, after looking as solid as a rock all season, Sorensen's double fumble allowed Andy Todd to score Rovers' scrappy, close-range first just after the break. And then the Dane was again caught out for Craig Bellamy's match-clinching second.

If Villa were at all unsettled by Milner's late omission following a stomach upset (after initially being named on the team-sheet), they certainly did not show it.

O'Leary could not have asked for a much more encouraging start, Gareth Barry twice doing good work in the early exchanges.

Barry evaded the offside trap to latch on to Aaron Hughes' long ball in the first minute but his Barry's offbalance shot only found the side netting. Then it was from Barry's neat lob over the top that Milner's replacement Luke Moore almost sneaked in.

Barry was only the warm-up act, though, compared to the two golden chances missed by Kevin Phillips and Baros in the space of a minute.

It looked like Phillips merely had to pull the trigger after Baros's ball over the top was played back to him by Moore at the far post. But Phillips was slightly too slow to react, allowing Ryan Nelsen the split second needed to rob him with a stunning recovery tackle.

Within 60 seconds, Nelsen then showed his sloppy side when he allowed Baros to get in behind him and latch onto the end of Moore's cross. But the Villa top scorer's finish was poor, feebly hit to allow keeper Brad Friedel to make the save.

Friedel then came to the rescue again with a fine save to keep out a powerful header from Olof Mellberg.

Blackburn's only first-half effort worthy of note had been Morten Gamst Pedersen's free-kick, which arrowed just over the bar. But that all changed in the fourth minute after the break when Rovers went ahead with their first effort on target.

Villa made a mess of defending Pedersen's corner, the ball broke off Stephen Reid's arm for Bellamy to test Sorensen with a header, but he spilled the ball and when he fumbled again Todd stuck out a leg to prod it over the line.

Just four minutes after the goal, Villa were handed another slice of ill fortune.

Barry's goalbound shot was blocked by Todd's elbow as the Blackburn defender put his arms up in self-defence. And, although Barry main-tained his composure to have another go with an overhead kick from the rebound, he quickly rounded on the referee to register his displeasure.

Nelsen then had a header cleared off the line by Moore. But it was Villa who still looked much the better side as they continued to open the home defence with ease.

Barry's fine through-ball sent Baros clear, only for the Villa striker to fire straight at Friedel's body. Then Baros should have done better than to head over from a Steven Davis cross. And, when Baros turned supplier again, Barry's shot and McCann's header were both only just off target.

To waste that many chances was bound to prove costly. And, sure enough, it did when, almost inevitably, Bellamy - a target for O'Leary last January - finished the visitors off.

Again Sorensen could have done better as he came out to block after Pedersen had been slipped in by Florent Sinama Pongolle. But the ball spun loose, Bellamy was on it like a fox, and drilled his shot through Sorensen's hands.