COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
The manager desrves praise for his selection and faith in youth. A player just turned 17, another just turned 19 and one just 20 and recovering from a battering for ill-judged childish tantrums.
The start of the game was frenetic. Just three minutes in and we force a corner swung in by Arteta which found the trusty head of Cahill who bulleted a header goalbound only for a defender to parry it away with his hand, it fell to Rodwell who found the roof of the net much to the delight and reciprocation of those assembled. Why no action from the ref for deliberate handball, goal or not?
Another few minutes and Hibbert hauls down Agbonlahor clear on goal, definite pen... but yellow card? Joe Yobo was sent off at Newcastle for the same offence, what price any sort of consistency?
From the resultant penalty, Howard got to it but somehow the ball went under him and we were back to all square. The Villa fans questioned who we were...
We then assumed a period of ascendency and the noteworthy point was when Cahill went for a dangerous header and appeared to be impeded but the ref adjudged handball against him and booked him, which unfortunately for us means our talisman misses the next game.
The next bit of serious action after a few red-blooded interplays was when the excellent Hibbert played in Bic Vic who powered forward in a style that suggested he may well prefer to play for the Blues rather than Hull and was upended in the box by one time Everton target Sidwell, who was booked and the Blues awarded a penalty. The master spot-kick man Arteta sent the keeper the wrong way and 2-1 was celebrated in good fashion. We let Villa fans know who we were.
As you would expect of a Martin O'Niell side, they did not lie down and put the work in but with a superbly marshalled defence by Jags and the very impressive Rodwell operating in front of the back four, they found it difficult. Before the break Petrov was booked when he got fed up of being second best to Rodwell.
Then Young, who had been well marshalled by the ever improving Hibbert, at last got free and put in a great cross that Agbonlahor headed wide, much to the relieved delight of those assembled and the chagrin of his manager; he really should have scored. Half-time and we were happy with the performance so far to the extent that anything but a home win seemed unlikely.
The second half took on an aura of "we won't give anything silly" but with a belief that the third goal was very necessary and, in that vein, we shaded most of the play. With much arm waving from O'Niell on the sidelines, Villa huffed and puffed but found the Blues in resolute mode and, with Rodwell striding the ground in front of the back four in a manner that belied his years, thus allowing Arteta to strut some serious stuff, we always looked the more likely.
Yet, as in every game, you always get a chance... and on the hour mark, Villa's Milner whipped in a cross that Carew got a flick and brought a quite stunning save from Howard, once again showing that, no matter our dominance, games are changed on such small margins.
This theory was proven with some fifteen minutes to go when, after a couple of Villa half-chances, Big Vic broke with purpose on the left, put in a cross that saw Gosling dive and miss, which seemed to strand the Villa defence and allow the ever lurking Cahill the chance to hit the ball into the deck, across the keeper and trundle into the net.
Cahill celebrated in normal fashion, a Blue got on and hugged him, the stewards parted them, Cahill proceeded to the ritual punching of the corner flag and the said fan returned for extra's and hugged him again, the stewards did their job once more and we continued with the game.
From that moment, neither club nor fans saw any other outcome so the game tailed off with Villa's half-hearted attacks being repelled by most of our team in their own half. Subs were made in the last two minutes of regulation time as Yobo and Castillo replaced Arteta and Big Vic but nothing more than cosmetic to run the clock down.
The final whistle and all celebrated but there was a feeling of job well done rather than an epic cup victory, yet leaving Villa to understand who and what we are. Overall, I thought a good win that mirrored the routine win over Bolton with the bonus that this was another top-four scalp.
You could say the game at its most basic swung on a tremendous save save from Howard to deny Carew and keep us 2-1 up, coupled with a failed diving header from Gosling that left their defence flatfooted and Cahill with a scuffed tap in.
My Man of the Match today was Rodwell, who I thought played with an aplomb and nous well beyond his years that may well have given Arteta the platform to claim the MotM for himself. From what I have seen of Rodwell, forget the question of his true position but celebrate his talent. I hope we can resist the overtures of the wealthy and provide him ourselves with competition of the high order.
Villa (we are told) are a big club with a highly loyal fanbase; tell me, where were they today as thousands of seats lay empty. Can you imagine us going there in the cup anything less than 100%? And Rantin Rafa calls us a small club???
The draw has been kind to us in as much as it is at home but still to be won and who knows in the cup. Back to league action next away to Newcastle and a chance to test your heart condition in just reaching your seat never mind the stress of their lovable stewards. Fellaini,Pienaar and now Cahill join the other absentees so more of the Moyes magic and the much talked about togetherness plus a full complement of Blue diehards will I am sure give it our best shot. See you there UP THE BLUES
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