John Carew spared Wembley-bound Aston Villa the energy-sapping inconvenience of extra time in last night's FA Cup fifth-round replay, earning and scoring two penalties in the final nine minutes as Crystal Palace looked set to force the additional half-hour.
Villa had struck first with Gabriel Agbonlahor's 14th goal of the season – from another phantom corner that provoked a barbed reaction from Neil Warnock in what was likely to have been his penultimate match in charge of Palace before switching to QPR. Yet Villa were disabused of any notions of a gentle work-out ahead of Sunday's Carling Cup final against Manchester United when Darren Ambrose beat Brad Guzan from the spot 17 minutes from time.
Then, however, Matthew Lawrence felled Carew and, after the Norwegian had powered his spot-kick past Julian Speroni, the Palace centre-back repeated his indiscretion against the same player two minutes from the end with an identical outcome. Villa, having come within minutes of being knocked out by a club in administration at Selhurst Park, were through to visit Reading in Martin O'Neill's first quarter-final as a manager in this competition.
Warnock, asked whether he could deny speculation linking him with QPR, replied: "No." If this was his swansong, he felt Palace had done him proud. "The score flattered Villa, but football's tough when you get corners and goal-kicks mixed up," he said, smiling sardonically about the build-up to Villa's opener. "I knew Nick Carle kicked the ball on to [James Milner's] left ankle. I could see that from the halfway line."
O'Neill praised Villa's "commitment" so soon before taking on United, adding: "I didn't see one player shirking with Wembley in mind."
Villa dominated the first half and should have been out of sight by the break. They eventually turned their ascendancy into a half-time lead with the simplest of set-piece goals. From Ashley Young's corner, Agbonlahor stole in front of Shaun Derry to convert a glancing header. As with Stiliyan Petrov's face-saver in south London, TV replays suggested the referee, Martin Atkinson, should have awarded a goal-kick.
Ambrose equalised after Stephen Warnock brought down Alan Lee. Carew, with unwitting help from Lawrence, soon matched his accuracy from the spot to take Villa into the last eight.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; L Young, Cuellar, Dunne, Warnock; A Young, Milner, Delph (Sidwell 76), Downing; Carew, Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Delfouneso, Davies, Heskey, Beye, Collins.
Crystal Palace (4-1-4-1): Speroni; Butterfield, Lawrence, Davis, Clyne; Derry; Ambrose, Carle (Comley 83), Ertl, Danns (Dijali 90); Lee (Andrew 90). Substitutes not used: Mann (gk), Hill, Scannell, N'Diaye.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
FA Cup sixth round: Revised draw
Saturday 6 March
Fulham v Tottenham Hotspur
Portsmouth v Birmingham City
Sunday 7 March
Chelsea v Stoke City
Reading v Aston Villa