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Villa on top in semi-final dress rehersal

While there will surely be changes made to the starting 11 in both teams’ next meeting, the outcome of this game was always interesting to note ahead of the upcoming Carling Cup semi final.

Martin O’Neill and Sam Allardyce made seven and nine changes respectively from their previous fixtures. Rare starts were given to Habib Beye, Fabian Delph and 18-year-old Nathan Delfouneso, while Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner were omitted from the squad entirely. For Rovers, only Pascal Chimbonda and Gael Givet remained in the starting line up from their 2-2 draw with Sunderland.

The match began at a steady pace, with Villa just having the edge as Ashley Young and Stewart Downing launching crosses and corner kicks into the area. And it was Young who created the opening goal for Villa after 12 minutes, receiving Delph’s pass and sending the ball from the left into the area. There, Delfouneso was on hand to glance it past Blackburn’s second choice keeper Jason Brown and continue his decent goalscoring record in cup competitions. Young himself had a brilliant opportunity to double Villa’s lead around 10 minutes later. He raced onto Nigel Reo-Coker’s through ball with only the keeper to beat, but that wasn’t to be the case and Brown did well to block the shot.

18 year old Delfouneso puts Villa in front

The half hour mark had just been reached, when Blackburn were handed a chance to draw level. Referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot after claiming Reo-Coker had brought down Stephen Reid inside the box. Former Birmingham City midfielder David Dunn stepped up with the task of equalising, but unfortunately for him Brad Guzan was the man to beat. The 26-year-old American had already showed impressive penalty-saving form in the competition, performing heroics in the penalty shootout against Sunderland in an earlier round. This he continued, correctly diving to his left to foil Dunn.

Blackburn were left to rue their luck as seven minutes later, Villa made it 2, and again it was Young who provided the assist. A free kick was awarded for a foul on Stephen Warnock by Michel Salgado, and Young was on hand to swing it into the danger area for central defender Carlos Cuellar to head into the corner of the net and double his goal tally for the season. And the drama continued right up until the end of the first half, as Rovers found themselves down to 10 men on the 42nd minute. Habib Beye was the victim of a dangerous lunge from fellow Senegalese countryman El-Hadji Diouf, himself no stranger to controversy. Webb had little option but to send Diouf off, much to Allardyce’s displeasure.

Diouf sees red

There was little need for Villa to alter the team for the second half, but an injury to Delph meant they were forced to substitute him for Steve Sidwell. This appeared to have an impact on Villa’s creativity, and subsequently they found themselves under the kosh for a while as Blackburn focused on trying to get back into the game. Despite this it was still Villa who had the more threatning chances; Emile Heskey found himself one on one with the keeper thanks to a pinpoint Ashley Young pass. But the veteran striker could not capitalise, somewhat unsurprisingly it has to be said.

An ineffective David Dunn was replaced by Zurab Khizanishvili after 53 minutes, and almost immediately Blackburn pulled one back as a result of a rare Guzan mistake. A Morten Gamst Pedersen corner was dropped by the young American, and Nikola Kalinic simply headed it into the back of the net. Blackburn were looking more determined to equalise but it was a case of too little, too late. And Villa crowned their passage into the 4th round in the 90th minute. John Carew, an earlier substitute for Heskey, was brought down in the penalty area by Gael Givet, and blasted a central shot past Brown to make it 3-1 to Villa.

Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker

Had Delph been on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, he would certainly have been a strong contender – always seemed to be behind Villa’s creativity up front. Ashley Young also deserves a mention, a much improved performance in which he was a constant threat. But Reo-Coker had an excellent game, doing his job of breaking down the Blackburn midfield extremely well.

Villa          3-1          Blackburn

Delfouneso 12       Kalinic 55

Cuellar 37

Carew (pen) 90

Attendance: 25,453

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