Aston Villa 3
Port Vale 1
Referee: Steve Bennett (Kent)
Aston Villa succeeded in reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup, but it was hardly a comfortable passage at Villa Park yesterday.
Port Vale, playing with confidence, energy and no little guile, were the more likely winners until the 70th minute and fired in shots with gay abandon in the closing stages. That they lost was just another example of the tournament's enduring romantic, but frequently perverse, tradition. On another day, with steadier finishing, they would surely have won.
The result may suggest it was a stroll for David O'Leary's team. The truth, however, is that Vale were nothing like a team with an inferiority complex as they attacked hosts representing a club that has won the old trophy seven times. Until Milan Baros found his scoring touch, there was little to choose between the sides.
"It was very difficult for us," conceded O'Leary, in his disingenuous style. "They sat back very deep. There was a bank of eight players to go through. At times like that, the important thing is just to keep going."
That the Aston Villa manager offered scant praise for Vale's heroic efforts, in front of a raucous army of more than 7,500 visiting fans, was surprising, given their contribution to the occasion.
However, his suggestion afterwards, that Villa had in fact dominated the game, was utterly mystifying.
"We are going home disappointed," said the Vale manager, Martin Foyle. "I really felt we could take something from the game. I thought it was winnable for us in the second half.
"Yes, it was tight," he added. "But we had a lot of chances and we had three or four really good openings at the end."
The first half was as sterile as the second was incident-filled. Baros slipped, stumbled and fell. He was laughed at by the noisy Vale hordes in the North Stand who hooted in derision also as Jlloyd Samuel and Olof Mellberg fumbled and erred. Finally, Baros ran clear, but his shot was smothered by Mark Goodlad. A minute later, he fired over.
At half-time, stalemate. O'Leary, standing in his dug-out, looked perplexed. The visitors, rather than his team, took control after the interval. Danger was signalled when Michael Husbands met a cross from Craig James and saw his header saved by Thomas Sorensen after an hour. Two minutes later, a mistake by Lee Hendrie permitted Leon Constantine to run clear, but he shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
It was a costly miss. O'Leary promptly brought off the disappointing Juan Pablo Angel and sent on Kevin Phillips for his first appearance after two months out with an ankle injury. His first touch was to provide a sublime angled pass for Baros, who buried a low diagonal shot beyond Goodlad.
Vale made two substitutions, but within seconds they were two behind when, from a corner by James Milner on the right, Mellberg headed on and Baros nodded in at the far post.
Even then, it was not all over. Vale pulled a goal back when, from a James free-kick, the substitute Nathan Lowndes headed in and then piled on the pressure. Sean Doherty shot wildly high and wide.
Villa survived and, in the second minute of added time, added an undeserved third when Lee Hendrie's deflected cross fell to Steven Davis who nodded in easily. Panic over, Villa relaxed. Vale were left to count the cash they need for financial survival.
Copyright 2006 Independent Newspapers UK Limited
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