Carew puts 10-man Rovers in place

Aston Villa 3 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Football

Irrelevant though it largely was to Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final meeting of the sides at Ewood Park – 16 changes to the starting line-ups saw to that – this subdued rehearsal did not lack in incident.

The more Blackburn Rovers seemed intent on writing it off, the closer they went to salvation and it was not until the final minute that Aston Villa assured themselves of FA Cup third-round success for only the third time in nine seasons.

A tie that rarely roused the frozen spectators nevertheless contained four goals, a penalty miss, a sending-off, two squandered one-on-one chances, fluctuating goalkeeping fortunes and, most improbably, a Blackburn fightback from two goals and one man down.

Shorn just before half-time of the services of El-Hadji Diouf for a wild two-footed challenge that might have taken out Habib Beye as well as the corner flag, Sam Allardyce withdrew Franco Di Santo almost immediately and David Dunn not long afterwards.

But Villa's ultra-comfortable two-goal lead was halved in the 55th minute when Brad Guzan, having already built on his penalty-hero status, fumbled a right-wing corner by the substitute Morten Gamst Pedersen and allowed Nikola Kalinic to touch in. And the Croatian was soon close to an equaliser when he drove wide on the run after being played in by Pedersen.

"We got sloppy in the second half for no apparent reason," said Villa's manager Martin O'Neill. "We were in reasonable control without being out of sight and maybe we thought we were home and dry."

Villa were indeed cruising after two brilliant left-wing crosses by Ashley Young teed up headed goals for Nathan Delfouneso and Carlos Cuellar, the former highlighting his first start since February. Young and Emile Heskey also failed with only Jason Brown to beat and Delfouneso embarrassingly missed with a close-range header.

But Blackburn, denied at 1-0 when Dunn's penalty was saved by Guzan after a tug by Nigel Reo-Coker on Steven Reid, might well have seriously threatened had Diouf not walked for an offence which Allardyce insisted the referee Howard Webb could not possibly have seen clearly.

John Carew eventually settled the outcome by rolling in a penalty conceded by Gaël Givet to leave Blackburn now without a win in 10 matches since 22 November.

"It was a really good revival under the circumstances," Allardyce said. "All the damage had unfortunately been done in the first half which ended up as a disaster."

Attendance: 25,543

Referee: Howard Webb

Man of the match: A Young

Match rating: 7/10