Carling Cup - Third Round
Leicester City 2 Aston Villa 3
After extra time: score at 90 mins 2-2
Gabriel Agbonlahor was the Aston Villa hero last night as his winning goal in the very last minute of extra time rescued Martin O'Neill's men from the potential pain of a penalty shoot-out.
The 20-year-old Villa front man blasted home to see off the challenge of Rob Kelly's plucky Championship battlers Leicester City, sneak his side through to the the last 16 of the Carling Cup and ensure his manager's unbeaten sequence was preserved.
But, despite the claims of Villa's delirious travelling fans that "We are unbeatable", Villa owed their progress largely due to the generosity of referee Mark Clattenburg, who helped their cause by awarding two controversial penalties.
At the expense of his old club, it all helped maintain O'Neill's long-renowned love affair with this competition, which he has won three times as a player and a manager. But Villa were given a real battle.
Not even the gift of those two spot kicks could help Villa settle the affair in normal time. Given the unpredictable way they take penalties these days, it's just as well that they settled the contest without recourse to the spot.
Mr Clattenburg's two disputed decisions came at the end of either half (the second of them more hotly argued than the first). That took the number of penalties Villa have been awarded this season to six (already better then the five they got last season) — four of which have come in the last three games.
They can expect one a week from now to the end of the season. But, no matter how dubious the penalty (or perhaps subconsciously because of just that!), Villa remain a team frustratingly inconsistent at taking advantage.
Of this term's six, three have been missed, skipper Gareth Barry doing the business with his first of the evening only to have his second saved with an effort that would have won Villa the tie in 90 minutes with the game's last kick. Instead, that honour was left half an hour for Agbonlahor.
Having left Filbert Street for Celtic in the summer of 2000, two years before Leicester moved to the Walkers Stadium, this was O'Neill's first 'return'. And he had never so much as sat (or even stood, as is his wont) in either of the two dug-outs at the Foxes' opulent new home. But the night could not have started any better when his team went ahead with virtually their first attack.
Agbonlahor provided the cross from the right and, on his 31st birthday, Juan Pablo Angel put it away from 12 yards for his sixth goal of the campaign (half of which have come in this competition).
O'Neill's men enjoyed other openings, too, notably when Angel headed over and when Stiliyan Petrov's low shot forced a decent save from Paul Henderson. They were made to regret them when Leicester levelled just five minutes from half time.
Iain Hume's fierce shot was excellently parried by Stuart Taylor — starting his second game in ten days to allow the fit-again Thomas Sorensen the night off following Saturday's return. But the rebound fell invitingly for
Richard Stearman and the Wolverhampton-born right-back slammed home from eight yards.
It did not take Villa long to get back in front, thanks to the first of the night's two penalties. It was not as bad as the second, nor was it quite so much of a gift as the one Tottenham Hotspur had awarded against them at Villa Park ten days ago. But it still looked a dubious decision when Petrov made a burst into the area and was adjudged to have been fouled by Gareth McAuley.
Skipper Barry, who last Saturday put behind him last season's two misses, was again nerveless with this one, sticking it high to the keeper's left.
It looked like Barry's first penalty of the evening would be enough to settle the contest. But, with just six minutes left, Leicester were back in it when skipper Patrick Kisnorbo headed home.
Extra time loomed, not to mention the prospect of those dreaded 'pens'. And, for no apparent reason other than maybe he simply wanted to get off and beat the traffic, referee Clattenburg stunned the home crowd by slipping in another unexpected spot kick.
This time it was substitute Chris Sutton who was 'fouled', and Momo Sylla the man adjudged to have been the miscreant. Barry unwittingly doled out his own justice.
He went the same way again, to the keeper's left. But it was slightly lower and more reachable this time and Henderson dived to his left to make a great save.
Petrov went close at the start of extra time. Henderson then pulled off another fine save to deny Barry with just seven minutes left when, at a similar range to his earlier penalty, the Leicester keeper acrobatically dived to keep out the Villa skipper's shot.
Given the penalty-related drama from earlier in the evening, this one appeared to have 'shoot-out' written all over it! But Agbonlahor had other ideas, angling home a deflected drive through a crowd of players which foxed the unsighted Henderson.
LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): Henderson; Stearman, McAuley, Kisnorbo, Johansson; Maybury, Sylla (Kenton, 102), Wesolowski, Welsh (Low, 67); Hammond (Odhiambo, 75), Hume. Subs: Douglas (gk), Tiatto.
ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Taylor; Hughes, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Barry; Agbonlahor, Osbourne (Bouma, 107), Petrov, Davis (Agathe, 90); Angel, Baros (Sutton, 66). Subs: Olejnik (gk) Laursen.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).
Bookings: Leicester — Sylla (foul), Kisnorbo (dissent), McAuley (foul); Villa — Barry (foul).