Downing's stunning strike ensures Villa do not pay for their profligacy

Aston Villa 2 Burnley 1 (aet)
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The Independent Football

Gerard Houllier, sporting a giant scarf more suited to the Tardis than the touchline, saw Aston Villa complete a triumvirate of West Midlands clubs in the last eight of the Carling Cup with a stunning extra-time goal by substitute Stewart Downing, though the win over Burnley came at a cost.

Marc Albrighton, the 20-year-old Villa winger, was sent off four minutes after Downing's angled drive tore past Lee Grant with six minutes of the additional half-hour played. Albrighton, who barged over Wade Elliott just outside the penalty area as the Burnley attacker raced clear, will miss Sunday's derby against Birmingham through suspension.

Villa's anguish was almost compounded by a second Burnley equaliser from the free-kick, Brad Friedel's instinctive save denying Ross Wallace. Burnley immediately appealed for a second spot-kick when Tyrone Mears' shot struck Eric Lichaj's arm, but the Championship team kept striving for an equaliser and even in stoppage time of extra time, the marauding Mears forced another outstanding save from Friedel.

Villa, beaten finalists against Manchester United under Martin O'Neill last season, had looked on course for victory four minutes from the end of normal time when another substitute, Emile Heskey, swept in their first goal in 340 minutes from Ashley Young's low cross.

However, with barely 60 seconds remaining, Clarke Carlisle rose above Heskey and Nigel Reo-Coker, his far-post header from Wallace's chipped cross rewarding a second-half performance which made nonsense of Burnley's inability to win away from home this season.

Albrighton's dismissal added to Villa's problems ahead of Birmingham's visit. An hour before kick-off, John Carew withdrew due to illness, and with Stiliyan Petrov and Gabriel Agbonlahor both definitely out, Houllier has selection issues over the next 48 hours.

The Frenchman felt Villa put pressure on themselves by failing to convert their first-half chances, with captain Nigel Reo-Coker the worst culprit. "We should have scored at least one in that half but didn't, and that affected our confidence in the second half," Houllier said. "But sometimes when you don't play well, you have to be resilient. I noticed when I spoke to the players before extra time that they wanted it, which is good. We lost Albrighton to a fair decision, even if the guy went down as if he was shot."

Brian Laws, the Burnley manager, was philosophical. "Football is cruel at times," he said. "We certainly deserved a result but got beaten by an outstanding strike. Our keeper Lee Grant kept us in it early on, and probably gave us a lift with three first-half saves, but in the end the hero of the night was Brad Friedel. All I've got is praise for my players. On any other night we would have won that game."

Midway through the first half, interplay between Villa's makeshift striking duo of Stephen Ireland and Young led to the England winger cutting the ball back to Reo-Coker. With "only" Grant to beat from eight yards he fired too close to the keeper, who made a fine one-handed save. The ball broke to Barry Bannan, but Grant was also equal to the diminutive Scot's shot.

The opening half had altogether less open play than when Burnley visited Villa Park in the Premier League in February. Villa won 5-2 on that occasion, but here Laws set his side up to morph rapidly from a secure-looking 4-5-1 to 4-3-3. The attacking side of the strategy was scarcely seen in the first half, yet the balance of the tie changed dramatically after the break.

Suddenly, Burnley pressed with conviction. In the space of five minutes, Friedel was relieved to see Martin Paterson's shot flash inches wide after a quickly taken free-kick by Graham Alexander had caught Villa napping; Mears sent a cross flashing across the face of the goal; and Paterson had a shot parried by Friedel, who compounded Burnley's frustration by tipping behind Jay Rodriguez's follow-up header.

Houllier's response was to send on Heskey and his one-time England colleague Downing. The cavalry saved the day, but had their American custodian to thank in the dying seconds.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Lichaj, Cuellar, Clark, Beye; Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Sidwell, Bannan (Downing, 64); Ireland (Heskey, 59), A Young. Substitutes not used Guzan (gk), Delfouneso, Hogg, Collins, Johnson.

Burnley (4-5-1): Grant; Mears, Carlisle, Duff, Fox; Rodriguez, Cork (Thomson, 87), Alexander, Marney (Elliott, 69), Wallace; Paterson. Substitutes not used Jensen (gk), Iwelumo, Edgar, Bikey, Easton.

Referee M Jones (Cheshire).