Villa off to Wembley after epic battle

Aston Villa 6 Blackburn 4 (Villa win 7-4 on aggregate)

Aston Villa are through to their first major final for 10 years after recovering from an opening half hour horror show to overcome 10-man Blackburn in a dramatic Carling Cup semi-final, second leg clash.

Villa looked shambolic and jittery as Rovers over-turned their first leg deficit with a double strike from Nikola Kalinic.

But a controversial goal from former Blackburn defender Stephen Warnock sparked the comeback and the writing was on the wall for the visitors after the dismissal of defender Christopher Samba, who brought down Gabriel Agbonlahor inside the box.

James Milner scored the penalty and Villa never looked back after that with Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey and an own goal from Steven Nzonzi confirming their superiority.

Blackburn regained their pride with goals from Martin Olsson and Brett Emerton before Ashley Young put the icing on the cake for Villa in injury-time.

Martin O'Neill's side will now meet either Manchester United or Manchester City in the final at Wembley on February 28 and one step away from lifting their first trophy since the 1996 League Cup.

The long suffering Villa fans will be hoping it is the start of a new era of success after many years of under-achieving since the 1982 European Cup triumph.

O'Neill has slowly but surely rebuilt his team since arriving at Villa Park in the summer of 2006 with the accent on young English talent.

Now the likes of Milner, Young and Agbonlahor will have the chance to show their potential in a major final.

But it will also be special for a long-serving stalwart like defender Richard Dunne, who moved to Villa in August and can now look forward to the first final of his career.

O'Neill's men started slowly though and the aggregate scores were level when Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan was indecisive when attacking what looked a catchable ball from an inswinging corner by Dunn and Kalinic powered in a goalbound header which took a deflection off Warnock.

After 26 minutes Blackburn moved ahead on aggregate. Morten Gamst Pedersen had time to send over a left-wing cross and, although Guzan did well to keep out Olsson's close-range header, Kalinic converted the rebound.

Villa were given a lifeline in controversial fashion by Warnock four minutes later. Agbonlahor clearly pushed Rovers skipper Ryan Nelsen to the ground as Young's right wing cross found its way through a ruck of players to former Blackburn player Warnock - who powered the ball into the roof of the net from close range. Rovers' protests to referee Martin Atkinson were in vain.

Villa started to gain some momentum and five minutes before half-time Heskey's pass was chased down by Agbonlahor, who was brought down in the box by Samba - who was clearly the last defender and given a straight red card by Atkinson.

Milner ensured Villa regained the aggregate lead by hammering the penalty past Paul Robinson for his eighth goal of the campaign.

Villa were now in the ascendancy and in first half injury-time Robinson parried aside a fierce drive from Villa skipper Stiliyan Petrov.

Villa dominated the opening stages of the second half and after 53 minutes an own goal from Steven Nzonzi put them ahead on the night and 4-2 on aggregate - Carlos Cuellar flicked on a corner from Stewart Downing and Nzonzi turned the ball past Robinson under pressure from Richard Dunne.

Three minutes later Villa struck again with a shot from Milner deflected by the chest of Agbonlahor past a stranded Robinson.

Villa were now rampant and after 62 minutes Blackburn cracked again as Heskey beat the offside trap after collecting a pass from Milner and he coolly rounded Robinson before netting.

Olsson made it 5-3 with a spectacular scissor-kick from Gael Givet's centre, before Robinson turned aside a header from Heskey and came off his line to deny Agbonlahor.

With six minutes remaining Emerton's volley crept under the body of a partially unsighted Guzan to further eat into Villa's lead - but Young had the final say in injury-time as he curled the ball wide of Robinson into the corner of the net.

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