Sullivan's heroics keep Villa in check
Doncaster Rovers 0 Aston Villa 0
Sunday 25 January 2009
Aston Villa might have aspirations to break the dominance of the big four but they still cannot win at Doncaster. Rovers might have needed a couple of exceptional reaction saves from their veteran goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan, and a couple of glaring Villa misses, but overall they were good value for a replay in Birmingham.
The last time Villa came to town, in 2005, they were beaten 3-0 at Doncaster's old ground Belle Vue in the Carling Cup. There were times yesterday when another shock exit looked perfectly possible.
One of those moments was when Gareth Roberts met James O'Connor's cross on the far post, but volleyed wide after only six minutes.
Gabriel Agbonlahor, in the absence of the suspended Ashley Young and the too-recently-signed Emile Heskey, operated on his own up front. He struggled but did get a chance just before the half-hour, thanks to Nigel Reo-Coker's whipped cross.
The striker got the necessary touch, but Sullivan, nearing his 39th birthday yet looking as good technically as ever, made the first of his excellent saves.
A weak clearance by Brad Friedel gave the lively Martin Woods an opportunity at the other end and his shot skimmed the bar. The first half had not quite caught fire as a cup-tie, but the side two from the foot of the Championship had enjoyed their fair share of chances. The second was more of a blood-and-thunder affair which soon threatened to get away from Rovers, with Sullivan saving well from James Milner's free-kick and an angledvolley from the same player.
The best of the lot from the former Tottenham man was a lightning reaction effort to keep the ball out when Nicky Shorey seemed to get what should have been the finishing touch in a crowded penalty area. He should have been left helpless, however, when Steve Sidwell had a free header but the midfielder put it to the wrong side of the post. Sidwell then provided a long ball for Agbonlahor to chase. His pace did the hard part, but then he lifted the ball over Sullivan and on to the bar.
Rovers were not merely hanging on. Their substitute Paul Heffernan had a chance but could not extricate the ball from between his feet and then Woods hit the outside of the post with a curling free-kick. Villa almost snatched it at the end when Craig Gardner tested Sullivan, but winning at Doncaster remains the impossible dream.
"We could do without the replay to be honest," said Rovers' manager Sean O'Driscoll. "But we gave a good account of ourselves."
Martin O'Neill was happy to agree. "They had the better of the first half, but we had a couple of great chances in the second and didn't take them. It's the FA Cup and I'm delighted to still be in it."
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
Man of the match: Sullivan
Match rating: 7/10
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