Aston Villa’s three goal defeat at Wembley in the FA Cup perhaps flatters their opponents, Chelsea, who were matched in all areas of pitch as a result of the Midlanders desire to progress to their second final of the competition. The match, as expected, was full of resolute defending, counter attacking football and controversial moments.
The Villans began the game more convincingly than their opponents with Gabriel Agbonlahor beginning the match brightly, causing problems for the Chelsea defence. Before 15 minutes had passed, Martin O’Neill’s men could have taken the lead with two chances. The first effort was a James Milner strike that was hit low and narrowly skidded passed Petr Cech’s right post. Moments later, Gabriel Agbonlahor, through on goal, seemed to be kneed to the ground by Jon Obi Mikel, however, Howard Webb simply waved play on, to the anger of O’Neill on the touchline. It was goalless at the interval, with Villa dominating Carlo Ancelotti’s men for much of the first half. Chelsea failed to up their game in the second half and Agbonlahor went close on 62 minutes with a penetrating run that forced a save from Cech. The opening goal, however, came at the other end after Florent Malouda’s corner was poorly cleared by Richard Dunne and the ball fell to John Terry whose shot found its way to Didier Drogba from six yards. While Villa searched for that equalising goal, John Terry was lucky not to see red after catching James Milner on the knee with a ferocious challenge. In the end, Villa succumbed to Chelsea and late strikes from Malouda and Frank Lampard sealed Villa’s fate.
O’Neill’s 4-4-2 formation proved to be effective straight from the first whistle, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing occupied the flanks and Gabriel Agbonlahor threatened the Chelsea defence with his speed through the middle. Villa’s wingers were brought into the game early, Downing and Young crossed the ball into the box from deep and without delay. When Chelsea had position the two wingers did well to tuck in and help Stiliyan Petrov and James Milner in midfield. Unfortunately, however, the deliveries were inconsistent and when they were of the required quality, Agbonlahor and John Carew failed to convert them. Despite having the ascendency at the start of the second half, Villa’s two-man midfield began to tire as Chelsea’s three-man midfield began to pass the ball around much more. James Milner displayed exceptional work rate to close down Chelsea’s midfielders, however, their numerical disadvantage proved significant in Villa’s eventual defeat. Perhaps a 4-5-1 formation, with three central midfield players would have contained Chelsea’s playmakers, however, even with two upfront, the Midlanders failed to create enough chances to threaten Petr Cech.
The Villa manager, obviously aggravated at his side’s exit from the FA Cup, spoke about a certain injustice after the match. Firstly he commented on the Mikel challenge on Agbonlahor,” It was clear-cut. I think everybody, even the Chelsea players because of their reaction, thought it was a penalty but the referee, who up until today I had the upmost respect for, has chosen to ignore it.” Mikel’s clumsy challenge on Agbonlahor did look like a penalty and if it had been given perhaps the end result would have been different. Even when Villa were trailing in the second half, if another decision were to have gone in their favour, Villa could have taken the match into extra-time, “Apply the law, that’s all I’m looking for. A bit of fair play. There are decisions in matches we can all contest at different stages, it happens, I accept this, but these are incontestable decisions. It was a desperately poor challenge [by Terry] and it should have resulted in a red card, at 15 minutes to go with the score 1-0.”
Aston Villa were certainly unlucky with decisions on Saturday and although an early penalty may have changed the outcome of the game. Nevertheless, when Chelsea needed to change the game, Ancelotti had the experience of Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou on the bench, whereas O’Neill had Emile Heskey and the young Nathan Delfouneso. The result highlighted Villa’s need for a prolific goal scorer, again.