Villa hold out to book place at Wembley


Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 0 (After extra time; aggregate 2-2; Villa win on away goals)

In the end it was not just the teams that were hard to separate. The fans also had to be prised apart last night after a marvellous Coca-Cola Cup semi-final suffered a tarnished conclusion.

Although the fighting that marred Aston Villa's progress to a record- equalling seventh League Cup final was mild, it was also worrying. Villa's fans do not have a violent reputation but Villa Park has a record of pitch invasions that has already concerned Euro 96 organisers.

Moreover, should Birmingham City overturn a 2-1 deficit against Leeds in the other semi-final on Sunday, then 24 March will see a Brum derby at Wembley. Security will need to be tighter than last night.

Villa deserved their win, but only because of the way they dominated the first leg at Highbury eight days ago. Thus, in a way, it was appropriate that Dwight Yorke's two goals that night should be the ones that sent them into the final on away goals.

Yorke failed to score last night, despite being a constant source of menace, as Arsenal won the tactical battle. In a move that his managerial predecessor would have been proud of, Bruce Rioch brought in Steve Morrow to make a third centre-back, pushed up the full-backs, and played Paul Merson and Dennis Bergkamp in inside-forward roles behind Ian Wright.

The changes stifled Villa's noted midfield and smothered their attacking full-backs. Arsenal, with Merson, Ray Parlour and the full-backs outstanding, thus controlled the midfield. However, Rioch's victory was Pyrrhic, for Arsenal proved unable to turn their possession into enough chances to gain the goal they needed.

Villa, in fact had been first to unravel the midfield maze, Mark Draper wriggling his way through the traffic before shooting low into David Seaman's arms. Arsenal were initially restricted to longer range. However, few teams rise better to the challenge.

They had some opportunities. Ian Wright was always a threat and might have scored soon after the break were he not pulled back by Ugo Ehiogu. Merson brought two fine saves from Mark Bosnich - the second actually made from Ehiogu who was being pressured by Merson. Then Nigel Winterburn almost became an unlikely hero when he hit the post with 11 minutes of normal time to go.

The best saves were made, however, by Seaman, usually from Yorke. The Tobagan had scored seven times in four games before last night and, when the tireless Andy Townsend crossed to him a few minutes from half-time another seemed inevitable. However, his diving header was too soft and Seaman was able to dive low to his left to deny him.

In the event that save, and a series of others, mattered not. Yorke, it transpired, had done enough at Highbury. That 2-2 draw ensured a stalemate would do for them. Arsenal brought on David Platt but there was to be no last-minute winner this time. Villa's long unbeaten League Cup run at Villa Park was thus extended to nine years and 22 matches.

At the end Arsenal fans, taunted by Villa's - who had invaded the pitch - struck a few blows of their own. It was all over very quickly, but it left a sour taste after such tasty fare.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton (Scimeca, 70); Charles, Taylor (McGrath, 33), Draper, Townsend, A Wright; Milosevic, Yorke. Substitute not used: Oakes (gk).

Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Keown, Linighan, Morrow; Dixon, Parlour, Hillier, Merson, Winterburn (Platt, 102); Bergkamp, I Wright. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Bartram (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

Photograph, more football, results, page 27

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