Joe Strange - Aston Villa are in the ascendancy
Published: 08 Mar 2010 - 07:40:06
Despite this season's FA Cup being one of the most exciting and unpredictable in the competition's history, quarter-final weekend was arguably the dullest and most predictable round thus far.
Chelsea comfortably brushed aside Stoke at Stamford Bridge, Tottenham held Fulham to a draw at Craven Cottage and the famous Fratton Park crowd were in full voice as crisis club Portsmouth secured victory over Birmingham City.
Cup drama was not only severely limited for the first time this season, but what little was on show was concentrated down in Berkshire, specifically at the Madjeski Stadium.
In-form Reading gave Champions League chasing Aston Villa quite a scare yesterday afternoon but in the end Villa's top-flight quality shone through - even if it did take a little longer than Martin O'Neill would have liked.
Prior to kick-off O'Neill was hit with a barrage of questions about a possible 'cup final defeat hangover' his players might experience after losing out to Manchester United in the Carling Cup final last Sunday.
Although the former Leicester boss denied any such issue, his side's first-half performance did little to prove him right.
Villa were uncharacteristically sluggish all over the pitch. Their rock-solid defence looked insecure and their dynamic midfield lethargic. Bullied by a Championship side struggling at the wrong end of the table, they found themselves 2-0 down at half-time.
Whatever O'Neill said to his players in the interval had an immediate effect and within 12 minutes of the restart the Villans were 3-2 up and in control.
Reading fought bravely to get themselves back into the game but a late John Carew penalty secured another trip to Wembley for a semi-final tie with current cup holders Chelsea.
It might have been against an opponent from the lower reaches of the second tier of English football, but the manner of Villa's comeback was impressive to say the least.
Two-nil down away from home and having lost a cup final just seven days earlier - it wouldn't have been surprising if Villa had rolled over and died in the second half.
But under O'Neill they have developed a fantastic team spirit and a winning mentality - two essential qualities for any team challenging for league and cup honours.
Add all this to a young, talented and predominantly British squad and you can start to see the makings of long term success at Villa Park.
With the backing of American billionaire Randy Lerner, seemingly one of the few foreign owners with a hands-off approach, Villa have the financial backing to compete in the transfer market.
In O'Neill they have a passionate, talented and ambitious manager with a proven track record.
And after a disappointing Carling Cup final defeat, they have a squad even more determined to bring silverware back to the midlands.
Chelsea will be favourites heading into the semi-final but don't count out Villa.
If they do lose out to Carlo Ancelotti's men, don't be surprised if it spurs them on to grab fourth place and Champions League football - giving up is something which just isn't in O'Neill's or Villa's vocabulary.
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- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:joe strange
- A product of Brighton University's prolific youth system, Joe Strange has boundless energy and the enviable ability to cover every blade of grass in his Monday blog. Joe has written for a variety of football websites and fanzines and is also a regular contributor to golf.co.uk. Despite being born and raised in Kent, 'Stranger' is a diehard Everton fan and counts his team's penalty shoot-out victory against Manchester United last season as his most memorable football moment. Follow Joe on Twitter @joe_strange.
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