Monday night’s invigorating victory over Sunderland was a tonic for the troops. Before the kick-off, I doubt that even the most battle-hardened Villan expected to see the claret and blue army net six, just as it’s safe to say that nobody envisaged ten goals in 2010 when Villa took on Blackburn Rovers in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final.
Back in January 2010, practically every man, woman and child packing Villa Park anticipated a close game as Villa looked to protect their one goal lead from the first leg at Ewood Park, which came courtesy of Milner. Many would have been wary of Kalinic, who’d rattled the bar twice in the first leg.
It was clear that Blackburn, playing with primal passion, meant business and that Kalinic was indeed a force to be reckoned with when he headed home from a Dunn corner after an error by Guzan. By the 22nd minute, Kalinic had ensured all eyes were on him when he then converted a rebound, after Olsson was enigmatically allowed to pop up between Dunne and Collins and cross the ball, to put the visiting side 1-2 ahead.
As the famous Aston Villa flapped, hushing the Holte in the process, Blackburn were buoyant.
Eight minutes later, everything changed: Ashley Young whipped in a dangerous cross that allowed Warnock to grab his first Villa goal and the racket returned to Villa Park.
Five minutes before the break, Samba’s clanger in the box saw him dismissed and Milner calmly converted the subsequent spot-kick to restore Villa’s aggregate advantage, giving the fading Villa faithful back their voices.
The noise built to a crescendo after the break: Dunne hustled in Downing’s corner, Milner’s strike went into the bottom left corner off Agbonlahor and even the hapless Heskey rounded Robinson and found the net.
As the Holte Enders surged from their seats and sang about heading to Wembley, Sam Allardyce’s men staged a comeback, with Olsson scoring a stunning overhead volley and Emerton piercing past Guzan and his packed penalty area to make it 5-4 on the night.
The Riversiders’ fans were reinvigorated but the Holte Enders no longer sensed hopelessness and sang loudly and proudly. The game reached its end in an electric atmosphere, with Ashley Young’s injury time curler booking Villa’s place in the final.
When Atkinson blew the final whistle, Villa fans flooded the pitch, fantasizing about the final, leaving ‘Big Sam’ to protest to the press.
Sadly, there’ll be no walk down Wembley Way for the claret and blue army this season but Monday’s 6-1 battering of the Black Cats was as important as it was emphatic and, in my opinion, was the club’s most vital victory since the one over Blackburn that January night three years ago.