PREMIER LEAGUE: Aston Villa 1 Blackburn Rovers 1

Aston Villa's bright young things did their England cause the power of good, with winger Ashley Young scoring the sweetest of free-kicks and goalkeeper Scott Carson saving a penalty under the watchful eye of Fabio Capello.

But a stubborn Rovers side dashed Villa's hopes of snatching fourth place on a day when all the other top teams in the Barclays Premier League were busy on FA Cup duty.

In the end, two sides who both harbour realistic hopes of playing European football next season had to settle for a share of the spoils; both will rue not making more of their second-half chances.

Martin O'Neill's side had gone into the match as favourites, with confidence high after their 2-2 draw with Liverpool on Monday and having handed Mark Hughes' men a 4-0 drubbing at Ewood Park earlier this season.

However, the home side had not banked on how well-organised and well-drilled Blackburn were this time around and, in the end, a draw was probably the right result for a match which really only came to life in the second half.

The England coach, who was at Villa Park for the second time in three weeks having watched the FA Cup third-round defeat to Manchester United on January 5, had ten England players to view and must have seen enough in the performances of Young and Carson to consider them prior to naming his squad to face Switzerland in a friendly next month.

The party is named on Friday and the Italian will surely also have to include Villa's Gareth Barry and Rovers' midfield player David Bentley, who are both just back from injury.

For all their ambition, Villa were the poorer side in the first half here, with Carson twice tested by Matt Derbyshire, the first shot coming after just five minutes.

And while Martin Laursen might have given Villa a tenth-minute lead after trying to get a toe on the end of one of Ashley Young's pinpoint crosses, it was Blackburn who looked most likely to score with Bentley and David Dunn carving their way through the home side's midfield time and again.

Mark Hughes's side should have been ahead in the 25th minute but for Carson. He denied his former England Under 21 team-mate Derbyshire a goal from the penalty spot with a fine diving save after referee Howard Webb had spotted foul on Bentley by Nigel Reo-Coker.

England's current first-choice keeper was correct in diving to his right but was only able to parry the ball out and Rovers might have slammed it back in on the rebound, had Derbyshire not been clattered to the floor by a posse of advancing Villa defenders.

Former Birmingham City midfielder Dunn was then denied what had looked a certain goal after excellent work by Laursen and then at the other end, John Carew was thwarted by a Stephen Reid boot.

Dunn, who had to put up with a barrage of abuse from the home fans, was back to his best, teasing the Villa defence time and again. But the hosts regrouped for the second half, began far more brightly and might have earned one of their favoured set-pieces but for Ashley Young's theatrics when fouled by Dunn on the edge of the area.

Referee Webb waved play on and Blackburn went close through Morten Gamst Pedersen, who was just denied by Carson's fingertips.

In the 59th minute, O'Neill brought on Marlon Harewood for Stiliyan Petrov and just as he did at Anfield, the 'super sub' almost immediately made an impact, only to be denied by Brad Friedel.

But then Blackburn were 1-0 up after Dunn's effort was thwarted by Carson, but his parry bounced straight into the path of Roque Santa Cruz, who made no mistake from four yards out.

Four minutes later, Villa were level. Gabriel Agbonlahor was fouled by Steven Reid on the edge of the box and up stepped Young to slot home an inch-perfect free kick.

The winger could have made it 2-0 minutes later when another free-kick, this time won after he was fouled by Brett Emerton, curled just six inches wide of the crossbar.

Young later joked that his effort was meant to be a cross, but it was another example of how accurate he can be from a dead ball - not a bad thing to show with the England coach in the stands.

Harewood could have stolen the winner at the death after another fine cross from Young, but the ball ricocheted off the crossbar.

And the fact that Villa fans were disheartened at only climbing into fifth place in the Premier League shows just how far the club has come this season.

Scorers: Santa Cruz (67) 0-1; Young (73) 1-1.

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Laursen, Davies, Bouma; Petrov (Harewood, 67), Reo-Coker, Barry, Young: Carew, Agbonlahor. Subs: Taylor, Knight, Gardner, Osbourne.

BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-5-1): Friedel; Emerton, Ooijer, Samba, Warnock; Bentley, Reid, Derbyshire (Roberts, 87), Dunn, Pedersen; Santa Cruz. Subs: Brown, McCarthy, Berner.

Referee: Howard Webb (Sheffield).

Bookings: Blackburn - Samba, Reid (fouls)

Attendance: 39,602.