Until last night's entertaining but not always convincing victory that gave them a fifth-round tie at Everton, Villa had beaten Doncaster once in 11 attempts and that when both clubs found themselves in the old Third Division. The failures have included a humiliation in the League Cup under David O'Leary and an FA Cup tie in 1955 that spilt over into four replays and which was eventually lost at The Hawthorns.
Even when a radically altered Villa side took an early two-goal lead through Steve Sidwell and John Carew, they were not safe and had Brad Guzan not pulled off a fingertip save from the Doncaster captain, Brian Stock, the visitors would have equalised.
As it was, almost immediately afterwards, Aston Villa scored the goal that saw them through to Merseyside. It was the best of a bitterly chill evening, created by a fine, low cross from Nicky Shorey that Villa's teenage striker, Nathan Delfouneso, headed instinctively home. Doncaster's fans warmed themselves with a chorus of "We are staying up" and on this evidence they are likely to be proved right.
For Martin O'Neill, who said Villa's concerns that Arsenal were allowed an extra day to sign Andrei Arshavin would be addressed at today's Premier League meeting, the rest of the season is all about balance. However, although the Aston Villa manager professed his love for the FA Cup, he acknowledged that qualification for the Champions League was "the Holy Grail". "I cannot afford to carry anyone in the team," he said. "I haven't got the squad for that so everyone has to step up."
For his tactics of making seven changes to the side booed off after Saturday's goalless draw with Wigan to work, Aston Villa needed quick goals and, although they got two, it was not until Delfouneso's intervention that Villa Park could relax.
Their opening two goals arrived with some of the luck that had abandoned them against Wigan and the Doncaster keeper, Neil Sullivan, would have felt himself unfortunate on both counts. For the first Villa goal, created by an Ashley Young chip that was nodded on to Craig Gardner, Sullivan pulled off an exceptionally fine one-handed save, only to see the ricochet roll into Steve Sidwell's path. He placed it into the net beneath the 5,000 or so who had travelled from Yorkshire for his fourth goal for Aston Villa.
That was nothing compared to what happened four minutes later when Carew, making his first start since suffering a back injury in November, swung his foot smoothly but speculatively at loose ball on the edge of the Doncaster area. It struck Sullivan's centre-half, Sam Hird, changed direction entirely and looped slowly over the former Tottenham man.
And that, logically, should have been that, except Doncaster kept upping their game while Villa's declined. "I was concerned all evening," O'Neill confessed. "But that's part of my nature."
As they proved when overcoming Leeds in the League One play-off final with some of the neatest, most composed football the new Wembley can have seen, Doncaster are not overawed by the grand stage. And nor were they last night, although their manager, Sean O'Driscoll, still maintained that two fine displays against a team fourth in the Premier League were "a distraction" to their Championship survival campaign.
But his team kept passing, they kept attacking and for a period Villa kept making mistakes. In first-half stoppage time an error by Delfouneso was pounced on by James Coppinger, whose square ball was met with Jason Price's instep and finished neatly in the corner of the net beneath the Holte End. Once more Doncaster were proving a major irritant.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; L Young, Cuellar, Davies, Shorey; Gardner, Sidwell, Salifou, A Young (Osbourne, 78); Delfouneso, Carew. Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Barry, Milner, Agbonlahor, Knight, Lowry.
Doncaster Rovers (4-4-2): Sullivan; O'Connor, Mills, Hird, Chambers; Spicer (Guy, 75), Stock, Wellens, Woods; Price (Heffernan, 75), Coppinger (Byfield, 76). Substitutes not used: Roberts, Van Nieuwstadt, Taylor, Lockwood.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).
Games needed to separate the teams the last time they faced each other in the FA Cup. Doncaster won the fourth replay 3-1 in 1955.Reuse content