A brilliant Aston Villa side beat Liverpool 2-1 to reach the FA Cup final for the first time in 15 years. For a long time everyone seemed to focus on the fact that the Final would be on Steven Gerrard’s birthday and it could potentially be his last game for Liverpool. Not anymore.
With 6 minutes gone, Philipe Coutinho broke down the right and crossed the ball to Joe Allen who was leaning back and shot over the bar. Aston Villa then had a nice passage of play with an interchange of passes which eventually fell to Charles Nzogbia but his shot was tipped over by Simon Mignolet.
Aston Villa were not feeling sorry for themselves and they continued to pass the ball neatly. They got their reward five minutes later. Jack Grealish took the ball down the left wing and played it back to Fabian Delph who laid it on a plate for Benteke, who hit his shot past Mignolet to level the scores. It was reminiscent of the passage of play for Liverpool’s goal earlier. On the balance of play Villa were they better team.
Five minutes before the break, Gerrard, playing in his last FA Cup Semi Final for Liverpool took a corner but Lazar Markovic’s header was wide of Given’s left post. The score remained 1-1 at the break.
At the start of the second half, Marcovic was replaced by Mario Balotelli. Aston Villa continued where they left off as they moved the ball quickly finding team mates. Jack Grealish was integral to the way they played and minutes later he delivered. He got the ball on the left and played it to Delph who cut inside two Liverpool defenders and hit a low shot past Mignolet to give Aston Villa the lead. A minute later though, Given had to spread himself at the other end to put Balotelli off, thus preserving Villa’s lead.
On the hour mark Villa had a chance to put clear daylight between themselves and Liverpool as a loose ball fell to Kieran Richardson but he skied his shot over the bar.
With a little over a quarter of the game left, Villa had anther chance as Benteke was played in but his shot was blocked by Alberto Moreno who came across to cover for his colleagues. In the 80th minute, Gerrard took a free kick after Balotelli was brought down on the edge of the Villa area but it was comfortably saved by Given.
In the 86th minute Liverpool had a corner and Gerrard headed it goalwards but it was cleared off the line by Kieran Richardson. In stoppage time Balotelli had a chance but he headed it over.
There were four added minutes but Liverpool did not look like they could score as the Villa defence led by Ron Vlaar battened down the hatches and helped them see out the game. And so there will be no cup final for Gerrard as he swans off into the sunset in Los Angeles.
As for Aston Villa they played their hearts out and deserved to be in the final. Their midfielders – Nzogbia, Grealish, Bacuna and their captain Delph put in a shift, controlled the midfield and simply did not allow Liverpool to play. Tim Sherwood will be the toast of Birmingham as his stock continues to rise since he was dismissed by Daniel Levy at Tottenham for not being good enough. Villa can now leave the cup final on the back burner for a while as they concentrate on ensuring their safety in the Premier League.
The disappointed Brendan Rodger said: “As you can imagine we are bitterly disappointed. You hope you can play well even if you lose a game. To be honest we were second best today. We did not play well enough today. Technically we were not quite on it. Collectively we did not play well enough to get a victory. We did not keep the lead long enough. In the second half we hoped to play better but we just did not create enough today.”
The delighted Villa Manager Sherwood said: “It was a great occasion for our fans. We have not won anything yet. No once gave us a chance coming into this game. We were not worried about what Liverpool were going to do. We will be the underdog. The pressure is on Arsenal to win the cup. There is a lot of work to be done before then. We need to secure our future in the Premiership before we come here. Our fans were not just here for a day out today. They felt they could come here twice.”