Sullivan heroics earn second crack at Villa
Doncaster Rovers 0 Aston Villa 0
Monday 26 January 2009
Neil Sullivan kept Rovers in a dramatic, if goalless, Cup-tie at the Keepmoat, but it was another Scot who nearly won it for the Championship side.
Sullivan, 27 times capped by Scotland during a long career spent almost entirely in the top division, made a string of fine saves – a couple of them requiring reflexes not guaranteed in a goalkeeper approaching his 39th birthday.
It was the Scotland under-21 international, Martin Woods, who almost capitalised on that good work by clinching the game. He had an impressive match on the left side of midfield, rattling the bar with a shot in the first half and the post with a free-kick late in the second.
"I'm a bit gutted we didn't get the result in the end," he said. "But we gave a good account of ourselves against a Premier League team and hopefully we can take that confidence into the replay. I put a bit too much curl on the free-kick and it just hit the outside of the post. It was disappointing because I thought it had a chance when I hit it."
Doncaster have an impressive Cup record against Villa, including a five-game epic in 1955 and a 3-0 Carling Cup victory three years ago. They made the chances to have won this as well, but so, despite not firing on all cylinders, did their opponents.
With John Carew still injured, Ashley Young suspended and Emile Heskey not signed in time, Gabriel Agbonlahor was on his own up front and found the going difficult. He still produced a couple of efforts on goal that demanded the best from Sullivan, however, as did James Milner and, minutes from the end, the substitute, Craig Gardner. Agbonlahor, possibly from an offside position, also ran clear and hit the bar, with Sullivan for once powerless to intervene.
There was a worse miss from Steve Sidwell, who had his "Darren Bent moment" when he headed wide of an open goal from Milner's cross.
Martin O'Neill, one of the Premier League's stronger advocates of the FA Cup, was philosophical afterwards about the need for an extra match. "It's the FA Cup and I'll take it," he said. If anything, the replay was more of an unwelcome addition to the fixture list for Rovers' Sean O'Driscoll. Charged with seeming less than jubilant about the result and the performance, he made it clear where his priorities lay.
"How am I supposed to be?" he asked rhetorically. "We're two places off the bottom of the Championship table." Even he would concede, though, that his side had not played that way.
Doncaster Rovers (4-4-2): Sullivan; O'Connor, Mills, Hird, Roberts; Spicer (Lockwood 89), Stock, Wellens, Woods; Coppinger (Price 75), Guy (Heffernan 75). Substitutes not used: Taylor, Van Nieuwstadt, Wilson, Byfield.
Aston Villa (4-5-1) : Friedel; Cuellar, Davies, Knight, Shorey; Reo-Coker (Gardner 69), Barry, Sidwell, Petrov, Milner; Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Harewood, Delfouneso, Salifou, Osbourne, Clark.
Referee: M. Halsey
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