Aston Villa's special relationship with the League Cup, which they won in its first season half a century ago, reached new heights of intimacy last night. Facing a numbing anticlimax when Blackburn overturned their first-leg lead with two early goals by Nikola Kalinic, the five-time winners answered with six of their own to advance in relative comfort to their first final at the new Wembley.
Yet even as the last of thousands of jubilant pitch-invaders headed off to toast Villa's victory after an almost surreal contest, Sam Allardyce was condemning referee Martin Atkinson over what he saw as the Yorkshire official's part in the "turning point" in the most open semi-final in memory.
The Blackburn manager had no issue with the dismissal, before half-time, of Christopher Samba, which led to James Milner converting a penalty. However, he claimed, with every justification, that minutes earlier, Gabriel Agbonlahor had pushed over Ryan Nelsen immediately before Stephen Warnock scored for Villa against his former team-mates.
"Villa were flat, not only the team, who were stunned, but the fans, who were moaning and groaning," Allardyce said. "All of a sudden, they get a lifeline. If we were going to get beaten, we wanted to blame ourselves. People will say there was an awful lot of game after that [first] goal, but it was a turning point."
Martin O'Neill spoke of an "amazing game" and admitted he almost lost track of the score. Appraised of Allardyce's comments, the Villa manager observed that his team had been denied two blatant penalties in the first leg. "You could go on forever and a day about these things," he said. "But over the two legs I think we deserved to go through.
"My team grew up tonight. We started nervously before we finally got a bit of life about us. But even at 5-2 we were making mistakes. The euphoria of being in that position made us lose concentration. But we made it and I'm absolutely delighted for the players."
O'Neill had special praise for Milner, hailing him as "sensational" in his new central-midfield role. He now has nine goals this season, underlining his credentials for a place in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad.
There were also goals for Richard Dunne and Emile Heskey before Blackburn retaliated through Martin Olsson and Brett Emerton. Ashley Young added insult to injury time with the game's 10th goal.
Blackburn, trailing 1-0 from Ewood Park, struck inside 10 minutes when Kalinic's header clipped Warnock's head on its way in: 0-1. Before Villa could settle, Olsson's header from Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross was parried by Brad Guzan to Kalinic, who sidefooted in: 0-2.
Warnock, sweeping in Young's cross as Nelsen appealed for a foul, halved the deficit and roused the crowd: 1-2. Soon, Agboblahor was felled by Samba and Milner scored from the spot: 2-2.
Villa retained possession well at the start of the second half, making Blackburn's 10 men do the chasing. Within eight minutes Dunne forced the ball in off Steven Nzonzi: 3-2. Before the hour, they had stretched their lead. Milner, perpetual motion personified, took a return pass from Heskey before hitting an angled shot from 25 yards: 4-2.
Heskey then rounded Robinson and could afford the luxury of falling on to his backside before scoring: 5-2. Blackburn delivered a sumptuous if vain riposte, Olsson executing a textbook overhead kick: 5-3. Emerton's volley, diverted past Guzan by Heskey, gave Blackburn hope: 5-4. But Young, racing clear before firing past Robinson, gave Villa the final word: 6-4.
For all Allardyce's anger, Villa had beaten Blackburn three times in as many weeks in cup competition. They now have the opportunity to win a trophy for the first time since 1996, when Brian Little's side routed Leeds 3-0. Whichever Manchester club awaits them, Villa are unlikely to find it so easy to update their silverware collection.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; Cuellar, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; A Young, Milner, Petrov, Downing (Sidwell, 86); Agbonlahor, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), L Young, Albrighton, Delfouneso, Delph, Beye.
Blackburn Rovers (4-1-4-1): Robinson; Chimbonda, Samba, Nelsen, Givet; Nzonzi (Reid, 61); Dunn (McCarthy, 56), Emerton, Pedersen, Olsson; Kalinic. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Andrews, Hoillet, Di Santo, Dalgado.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).Reuse content