THERE are worse ways to decide a semi-final than a goal fest, although Sam Allardyce's heart surgeon might beg to differ. In a contest that had more twists and turns than a Dan Brown thriller, Aston Villa reached their first final since 2000, and were rewarded with a euphoric pitch invasion at the final whistle.
Villa made it hard for themselves, make no mistake. For 45 minutes they did little more than hang in, their grip on the final down to nothing more than a fingertip hold, thanks a Nikola Kalinic brace.
But strikes from Stephen Warnock, Richard Dunne, Emile Heskey, Ashley Young and two from James Milner ensured it would be Villa who contest the Carling Cup final on Sunday February 28.
Milner's goal at Ewood Park last week meant that Blackburn had arrived knowing that they needed to be the aggressors, and that they were. David Dunn's punchy shot in the sixth minute came to nothing, but his corner four minutes later was headed in, off the back of Warnock's neck, and into the Villa goal in front of an aghast Holte End, by Kalinic.
Villa struggled to extricate themselves from their own half. Morten Gamst Pedersen found the ball on the right and Martin Olsson, inexplicably, was allowed to pop up in between Richard Dunne and James Collins and head the cross goalwards from six yards. Guzan produced a reflex stop, but Kalinic was lurking for the easiest goal he will score all season.
Desperate times for Villa. Warnock answered the distress call. When Ashley Young whipped a dangerous cross into the area, the ball eluded Ryan Nelson, Samba and Pascal Chimbonba, leaving Warnock free to strike the ball with gusto, at the far post.
The bit between their teeth, Villa pressed again. Heskey released Agbonlahor with a ball over the top, and as the striker prepared to pull the trigger Samba slid in from behind. Martin Atkinson went to his pocket for red, and James Milner converted from the spot.
The noise redoubled when Dunne bundled in Villa's third, by way of a deflection off Nzonzi, and it had become a crescendo by the time Milner, ignoring Nelson's foul on Heskey on the edge of the area, had drilled a long-range effort home.
Heskey then latched onto a cute pass from Milner, and rounded Robinson. Even Olsson's scissor volley a minute later, and Emerton's goal five minutes from time didn't dampen the spirit. And when Young rounded things off in time allowed, and the referee blew the whistle, they flooded the pitch. (© Daily Telegraph, London)