PARTY TIME: Villa players congratulate scorer Fabian Delph (no.16)
ASTON VILLA stunned Liverpool to reach the FA Cup semi-final today (April 19).
Villa’s 2-1 win was well merited as they outfought and outthought the lacklustre Anfield side.
Goals by in-form Christian Benteke and the magnificent Fabian Delph were enough to see the Midlanders reach their first final since 1957.
Tim Sherwood’s men were superb for the entire match and deserved their end-of-season day out against Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal on May 30.
This was Liverpool's 24th appearance in an FA Cup semi-final - only Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton have played in more. However, at no stage today did they look like making it 25. Brendan Rodgers’ team were devoid of ideas or impetus.
They may have taken the lead on the half hour mark but they were never convincing.
Since Tim Sherwood took over, Benteke is the top scorer in the Premier League with eight goals. His equaliser today came in the 36th minute when the young and hugeky talented Jack Grealish found Delph, who crossed for the striker to fire home with aplomb.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard made a return to his team’s startling line up but he was as docile as the rest of his team. We are unlikely to see the iconic midfielder back at the home of football.
The Reds looked light up front from the kick-off with Daniel Sturridge once again missing due to injury. To balance that out, Villa were also minus a key man, with the rapid Gabriel Agbonlahor absent.
The first period belonged to the Midlanders, certainly in terms of possession and goal threat. Sherwood had has men pumped up. Tom Cleverley, Ashley Westwood, Delph and Grealish were dominating the ball, and all the while Benteke was a potent weapon up front.
Liverpool, in their bright yellow shirts, took the lead against the run of play. On a rare raid, Raheem Sterling found the onrushing Philippe Coutinho who burst some static Villa defending to fire home.
Prior to that Charles N’Zogbia – who was playing off Benteke in the absence of Agbonlahor, forced Simon Mignolet into a fingertip save in the 11th minute.
Moments later N’Zogbia had the chance to put Benteke in on goal but his pass was blocked by a Liverpool defender.
Villa lost defender Nathan Baker to injury in the opening period and he was replaced by Jores Okore; it did not interrupt their belief or admirable tenacity.
They wer to gain dserved parity in the when after more good work by Grealish and a cross by Delph, Benteke fired home.
At the start of the second half, Benteke missed a half chance after a run and cross by Leandro Bacuna. They did not have to wait long for their moment of glory.
Delph, after a set-up by the industrious Grealish, showed off his twinkle toes to bemuse several defenders and fired home with his weaker right foot.
Villa were comfortable for the rest of the match. Indeed Sherwood’s men could have added to their
tally but Alberto Moreno’s last ditch tackle on Benteke was a thing of beauty.
Villa ‘keeper Shay Given could not have had an easier afternoon; this correspondent cannot recall the veteran having anything to do beyond regulation.
Given saw his goal superbly protected when Kieron Richardson cleared a Gerrard header off the line with just five minutes to go.
Three minutes later and the Reds’ knew it was not their day when the referee’s assistant incorrectly flagged second half substitute Mario Balotelli offside, the pity for Rodgers’ side is that the striker had slammed the ball into the back of the net. An equaliser then would have been a fillip for the Merseysiders.
Balotelli had a header go over the Villa bar in injury time.
Referee Michael Oliver’s final whistle was the signal for the Villa faithful to get the party started.