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Houllier hails impact of Pires as Villa advance

Gerard Houllier hailed the performance of veteran midfielder Robert Pires as Aston Villa booked an FA Cup last 16 spot with victory over Blackburn. Pires scored his first goal for the club and was an influential figure before leaving the pitch to a standing ovation in the second half.

Ciaran Clark and Nathan Delfouneso were also on target for Villa with substitute Nikola Kalinic netting for Rovers. "He [Pires] is fitter, first of all," said Villa manager Houllier. "He played against Sheffield United in the last round and I think he is getting better and better. He has still got the touch and the eye for the pass and he brings some fluency to the game with his technique.

"I was pleased by the reaction of the bench when he scored. That is something very telling. The whole bench went up and were very happy and proud for him. He is a popular fellow. We've got to understand he has not got the legs of when he was 30 but he still can run and have an impact."

Houllier will not be appealing against the straight red card handed out to 19-year-old defender Nathan Baker for a challenge on Junior Hoilett after 62 minutes. "It looked harsh from where I was but I can understand the referee has a totally different angle," he said.

Villa have now won three games in the past week and Borussia Monchengladbach's American midfielder Michael Bradley is poised to join on loan for the remainder of the season. "It was great to keep the momentum going," said Houllier." That was one of our missions today, to keep the winning edge. They played well, they had a couple of chances as well and hit the bar. We probably played better in the first half.

"It was a different game when we were down to 10 men but I am as proud of their effort in the first half as in the second half because we had to show discipline and tactical adjustment to the situation. We kept a clean sheet when with 10 men which is good. The commitment and passing has improved a lot."

Rovers boss Steve Kean was left to bemoan his own side's shortcomings at both ends of the pitch. "We looked at the chances we had and we need to be a bit more ruthless," he said. "We had eight good chances and did not work Brad Friedel enough. We are disappointed with that part of our game and the goals we conceded in the first half were poor goals."

Sunday Indo Sport