ASTON VILLA 3
PORT VALE 1
There are times when the FA Cup is rather unromantic. The bigger club, in this case a sleeping giant that has won the trophy seven times, if not in recent memory, blunders around like a drunk trying to swat an insect and finally, after being stung, but not wounded, lands a telling and lucky blow. Splat.
Port Vale, and their wonderful supporters, did not deserve to lose. Even when they trailed 2-0 in the final 20 minutes they attacked with verve, made chances and wasted them. In the end, two unlikely strikes in four minutes from the energetic and enigmatic Milan Baros gave Aston Villa an advantage that was too much to overcome. Nathan Lowndes' headed goal set up a grandstand finale, but Steven Davis ended it all with a flattering third for the hosts, who spluttered into the fifth round for the second time in eight years.
Vale, whose manager, Martin Foyle, had played in their last giant- killing feat 10 years ago, against Everton, wore black-and-yellow stripes and buzzed all over Villa like wasps. But their hopes of glory, in front of a raucous following of 7,750 in the North Stand, were extinguished when Leon Constantine dragged his shot wide from close range, with only Thomas Sorensen to beat after 64 minutes.
Foyle, talking with commendable honesty, admitted the boost to Vale's ailing finances was a welcome prospect. But, he said, Vale "could have got something out of the game." He was being modest. In the first half, Villa were sullenly dull and in the second they needed Constantine's miss to stir them. The Holte End was silent until Baros, after a familiar slapstick spell, was fed by the astute Kevin Phillips and opened the scoring with a diagonal shot beyond Mark Goodlad.
"Villa were nervous because of their crowd and we got to half- time level which was our main objective," said Foyle. "But they scored at the right time - for them - and I thought the second goal had killed the game. Then we had a real go at them. They were on the back foot and we had three or four good chances. Sean Doherty had a couple of good opportunities. On another day they might have gone in."
Baros's second, a header from a corner by James Milner headed on by Olof Mellberg, was his eighth this season' scant return for the top scorer at the 2004 European Championship.
Phillips seems to understand Baros. He knew where, and when, to pass to make the most of his pace and unpredictable right-foot shooting. No wonder David O'Leary was relieved to have him back after two months out with an ankle injury, and to survive a demanding fourth-round test by such excellent League One opposition.
Goals: Baros (70) 1-0' Baros (74) 2-0' Lowndes (85) 2-1' Davis (90) 3-1.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen' Hughes, Delaney, Melberg, Samuel' Hendrie, Davis, McCann, Milner' Angel (Phillips, 68), Baros. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Whittingham, Ridgewel, Moore.
Port Vale (4-4-2): Goodlad' Abbey, Pilkington, Fortune (Birchall, 71), James' Cummins, Dinning, Togwell, Innes (Doherty, 72)' Constantine (Lowndes,76), Husbands. Substitutes not used: Brain (gk), Sonner.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Man of the match: Baros.
Copyright 2006 Independent Newspapers UK Limited
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