Milner stands out as Villa's England hopefuls hit form

Portsmouth 2 Aston Villa 4

Martin O'Neill was overlooked for the job of England manager back in 2006, yet he is still doing his bit to help the national side ahead of next summer's World Cup in South Africa.

Aston Villa progressed to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup with a convincing victory over Portsmouth in a gloriously entertaining cup tie last night and, to make it an intriguing evening for England manager Fabio Capello, four of Villa's England hopefuls – James Milner, Emile Heskey, Stewart Downing and Ashley Young – all scored.

Milner was the pick of the bunch, proving his versatility in an unfamiliar role in the centre of midfield. Capello is already aware of Milner's ability to play a range of positions, at home on either the left or the right flank.

The England manager even used him at left-back for 15 minutes of England's World Cup qualifier against Belarus. If Capello wants players who can perform in a variety of roles, then Milner is making a compelling case for inclusion in the 23-man squad.

Milner set Villa on their way to the semi-finals with a delightful pass which set up Emile Heskey to lift the ball over Portsmouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic for Villa's opening goal. That cancelled out an own goal from Stilian Petrov from a Danny Webber corner two minutes earlier.

Milner again provided the inspiration as Villa moved through the gears and took the lead after 26 minutes. Ashley Young supplied the ball from the left flank and, with a deft first touch, Milner took the ball infield on to his right foot and struck a ferocious shot from 20 yards into the far corner of Begovic's goal.

O'Neill said of Milner: "He played terrifically well. He scored the goal but it was a great performance. It didn't cause me undue concern because I know he can play in there." Milner faded slightly after the interval, but Ashley Young stepped in with a vibrant display down the right to give Villa a serious chance of winning their first trophy since they last won this competition in 1996.

Downing, making his first start for Villa since moving from Middlesbrough for £10m in the summer, shrugged off the frustration of having been sidelined for six months with a broken bone in his foot by scoring Villa's third with a stooping far-post header from Ashley Young's cross.

The Portsmouth manager, Avram Grant, picked several reserves, and while his side lacked quality, they never gave up the fight, and managed to give Villa a scare with a late goal when substitute Kanu scored from close range after Hermann Hreidarsson chested the ball into his path. But no sooner had Portsmouth threatened to make a comeback than it was snuffed out by Ashley Young's no-nonsense finish from a cross by another England squad member Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Grant's primary concern, with Portsmouth rooted to the foot of the Premier League, will be that his side have conceded eight times in his first two games in charge. The Pompey manager said: "If you concede four in the last two games, of course you have problems. But it's about concentration, not just the defence. That's something I have to look at."

For O'Neill now there is the prospect of a two-legged semi-final next month. He said reaching a semi-final was overdue. "Aston Villa are a club that maybe, over the last 25 years since the heady days of European football, might not have been contesting as many semi-finals or finals that the club's size would warrant," O'Neill said. "So it's nice to be doing that now in that sense. It would be nice to win a trophy."

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Begovic; Vanden Borre, Kaboul, Ben Haim, Hreidarsson; Yebda, Brown, Hughes (Wilson, 84), Belhadj; Utaka (Piquionne, 76), Webber (Kanu, 65). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Mullins , Dindane, Basinas.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; L Young, Dunne, Cuellar, Warnock; Downing, Milner, Petrov, A Young; Heskey (Delfouneso, 89), Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Delph, Reo-Coker, Beye, Gardner, Clark.

Referee: L Mason (Bolton).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable