On a fevered night in the second city, Aston Villa surged to Wembley. Anyone in doubt as to the value of the English cup competitions should have been here.
Becalmed and befuddled in the Premier League, Dean Smith’s Villa were resolute, energetic and, crucially, clinical to see off Midlands rivals who were odds-on with some bookmakers to make the final before this game even began.
This was a thrilling game of football, illuminated by individual performances of the highest quality. If Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland plays like he did here in the final then Manchester City – if that is who it’s to be – will need to come with everything they have. If Jack Grealish plays likes this, Gareth Southgate will not be able to ignore him much longer.
The Aston Villa players wheeled away in jubilation as Leicester’s sunk to the turf after Trezeguet’s winner at the death
Trezeguet kept his composure to calmly volley in an inch-perfect cross from Ahmed Elmohamady into the corner
Leicester’s Ben Chilwell showed his disappointment as he put his hands on his head after Villa’s winning goal
Kelechi Iheanacho sneaked in at the back post and thumped in Harvey Barnes’ cross-shot to bring Leicester level
Matt Targett celebrated in front of a raucous home crowd after putting Aston Villa ahead early in the first half
The Aston Villa defender smashed the ball past Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to find the bottom corner
Aston Villa (3-4-3): Nyland, Konsa, Mings, Hause, Guilbert (Elmohamady ), Douglas Luiz, Nakamba, Targett, El Ghazi (Trezeguet 22139, Samatta (Davis 72, Grealish;
Subs not used: Chester, Lansbury, Hourihane, Sarkic
Scorers : Targett (65 ), Trezeguet (421 2)
Booked: Konsa, Douglas Luiz
Leicester (3-1-4-2): Schmeichel, Soyuncu, Evans, Chilwell, Ndidi, Ricardo Pereira, Tielemans, Maddison, Barnes (Gray 90, Iheanacho, Perez (Vardy 7939963 );
Subs not used: Justin, Albrighton, Ward, Benkovic, Praet
Scorers: Iheanacho (72)
Referee: Mike Dean
And that’s before we consi der members of the vanquished, players like Leicester’s James Maddison and Harvey Barnes. Both were excellent, driving their team onwards after they fell behind early.
At the death, it was Villa’s night but it could have gone either way. Mahmoud Trezeguet’s winning goal – two minutes in to added time – was greeted like a lottery win.
The full-time whistle prompted a pitch invasion. It was unnecessary but entirely understandable. This has been a season of sobering struggle in the league for Villa but this was a night to escape all that, a night to lose yourself in a beautiful winter’s evening of winner takes all football. It was sport in its purest, most vital form and by the end of it Leicester’s players were brought to their knees by the sheer disappointment of failure.
It was a perfect advert for the competition and also for knockout football as a whole. We know all about the arguments for teams fielding weakened teams. Both managers in charge here had done exactly that in the early rounds. But by the time we reach this stage, it is hard not to see the attractiveness of what is at stake.
Early on, after a first leg drawn 1-1, Leicester seemed intent on finishing things early. Brendan Rodgers ’team are Premier League heavyweights these days and here they came out swinging hard.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland pulled off a stunning save to tip Youri Tielemans’ effort on to the crossbar
James Maddison also tested the Aston Villa goalkeeper with a decent effort from outside the box in the first half
Caglar Soyuncu got up the highest to make a vital clearance with Schmeichel off his line and stuck in no man’s land
Five times in the opening ten minutes, they delivered shots on goal . Nyland, a 83 – year-old Norwegian, is far enough Down the conventional Villa pecking order that he could be described as fourth choice. But he saved from Kelechi Iheanacho at his near post in the third minute and then twice from Maddison. At that point, he was the only thing keeping his team in the tie.
Villa were treading water but – out of nothing – swam against the tide to score in the 24 th minute. It was a superb breakaway goal.
Right wing-back Frederic Guilbert won a duel just inside his own half and when the ball broke to Douglas Luiz, Villa were away. Luiz fed Grealish down the left and when the Villa captain turned inside in the penalty area it looked as though the chance may be lost.
But Grealish has such good vision and his reverse pass to the left bounced up perfectly for the arriving Matt Targett and he smashed it first time across Kasper Schmeichel and in to the far corner.
It was the first cup goal of the – year-old’s career and Villa Park erupted. The goal was as special as it was unexpected and for a while Leicester did not respond. Indeed the next meaningful effort came from the home team’s Anwar El Ghazi, a free-kick that just passed over the bar.
Soon enough, Leicester did find their earlier gusto and when Nyland touched a Youri Tielemans shot brilliantly on to the bar the ball was recycled for Maddison to drive an effort against Marvelous Nkamba’s raised arm. Strangely, referee Mike Dean and then the VAR official saw no infringement.
Kelechi Iheanacho tries his luck from a tight angle early on in the match but couldn’t find a way past Nyland
Maddison remonstrates with referee Mike Dean following an unsuccessful VAR check for handball after his shot was blocked
Mbwana Samatta showed his frustrated after failing to make a connection with an inviting cross into box from Grealish
Villa, as well as they were playing, looked as though they may need another goal. Twice, once in either half, new signing Mbwana Samatta fluffed glorious chances set up by Grealish.
Both looked simple but one he miskicked and the other he made no contact with at all. When he was substituted after minutes, the Tanzanian looked distraught. He had endured a dreadful debut, a night when the unremitting ferocity of the night proved too much for him. To make things worse, Leicester were level within six minutes.
Rodgers ’team had never been quite as potent as they were early on but Maddison and Barnes ensured they continued to carry a threat. When Barnes crossed low from the left at the Holte End, Iheanacho buried his eighth goal in 13 games from six yards.
Villa had been close to the finish line. Had Samatta been anywhere near proficient, they would have been at Wembley already. Instead, a penalty shoot-out now looked their best bet of saving their evening.
Still, the game ebbed and flowed. Maddison shot high and wide of the near post and then Villa’s Trezeguet shot weakly when played clear by Keinan Davis.
But Trezeguet’s moment was still to come. With 90 minutes played, Ahmed Elmohamady swung in a deep cross from the right, Leicester’s defenders lost track of their opponent and Trezeguet volleyed the winner back across goal and in to the corner with a technical proficiency totally in keeping with the nature of the evening.
What a goal, what a finale, what an evening. Wednesday’s meeting of the Manchester giants has much to live up to.
The Villa players sprinted to celebrate their winning goal late in the day with their boss Dean Smith on the touchline
The home fans stormed the pitch at the final whistle after setting up a Carabao Cup final date with Manchester City or United
Aston Villa’s match-winner Trezeguet was held aloft on the pitch by the home supporters after the match
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