Villa beat Leicester to reach the Carabao Cup final. Dave Woodhall watches nervously, and triumphantly.
Football is big business, we all know that. The Premier League and finishing in the top four are all that matter, apparently. Fortunately there’s still room in the game for romance, glory and sheer excitement, and if that’s your belief you’ll know that there’s nothing on earth that could hope to match the maelstrom of emotions we endured during the last five minutes at Villa Park on Tuesday.
The line-up was as expected, with Mbwana Samatta creating some kind of record by making his debut at this stage and Orjan Nyland in goal because it’s the law that reserve keepers have to be played in this competition.
It’s also the law that “doubtful” for Villa means out for a couple of months while for opponents it means they’ll be fit, so Jamie Vardy on the Leicester bench was no surprise.
And neither was it particuarly surprising that Leicester started like they meant business. Nyland’s goal was under siege for the first eleven minutes and there was a real danger that this game could have gone the same way as the league fixture last month. Then in the twelfth minute Jack Grealish gets the ball, turns the Leicester defence with a typical piece of magic and lays it off for ther oncoming Matt Targett.
And apart from hitting the bar, Leicester did little for the rest of the first half. They didn’t do a lot more in the early stages of the second either, and Samatta should have wrapped up the game when he just failed to get a touch onto yet another sublime ball from Grealish. It would have been a fairytale start, but it wasn’t to be and he went off soon afterwards to be repalced by Keinan Davis, fresh back from injury.
In an ideal world neither would have been playing but the conditions are still far from ideal and Villa’s patched-up team were starting to struggle when Leicester equalised with eighteen minutes to go. That should have been it, but as with the first leg it was Villa who came back stronger and substitute Trezeguet should have done better when he was through on the keeper.
No matter, because this was destined to be one of those nights, even if it didn’t feel like it for much of the game. Ahmed Elmohamady, on for the later stages after Fredric Guilbert had gone off either injured or exhausted, was the provider and Trezeguet volleyed home deep into stoppage time.
Well, I say deep, but unlike last Tuesday night against Watford there was still enough left on the clock for Leicester to have one last-ditch corner and then a last-last-ditch free-kick in a dangerous position. But, it was one of those nights. The whistle blew, the pitch invasion began and Dean Smith has taken the Villa to Wembley once more.
It was always going to be an occasion when big performances were needed, and they were there in abundance. Grealish and the goalscorers will grab the headlines but every player did what was expected of him. Nyland had given the boss the most almighty selection poser for the final, if not for the rest of the season. The defence were solid, the central midfield duo immense, and Douglas Luiz is coming on with every game. Samatta looks promising, Davis gave an extra dimension when he came on.
And as for young Smithy; it’s impossible to comprehend how he must be feeling. It’s his club, he’s living his dream and it keeps getting better. He’s made mistakes and judging from the substitutions in the past three games he’s learning from them. And now he’ll lead his team out at Wembley in a cup final.
But before then there’s a relegation battle to focus on, and the last few days of the transfer window to sort. There’s still plenty of work to do on both although in the cold light of Wednesday morning bringing in players to finish the next job will be a lot easier now than it was on Monday.