Well thank god for that. Aston Villa were held and even matched by Blackpool for the majority of a very poor home performance. In the end Benteke put Villa through to the fourth round, but the manner of the victory was far from convincing.
A team that pleased most including Westwood, Cole and Grealish was picked by Lambert before kick off. Sadly they failed to provide the attacking spark that many had predicted. It took Villa until the 65th minute to register a shot on target at home to a Blackpool side with a woeful defensive record at the bottom of the Championship.
Villa started with a 3-5-2 formation early on with Westwood sitting back with Okore and Clark - Hutton and Cissokho getting forward whenever possible. This was switched to 4-2-3-1 as Villa failed to impose themselves and make Blackpool work.
Villa had the majority of possession (if not total dominance in that department) but failed to carve out clear cut chances. The very quiet Grealish had a decent cross that evaded everyone in the opening minute. Another Westwood corner failed to find Okore. Hutton had a penalty shout after a lovely through ball from Joe Cole. Benteke was waiting in the middle, though the commentators suggested Blackpool won the ball.
As the second half grew older Blackpool gained confidence. A couple of long shots went narrowly wide and Given was called into action for one fantastic save. However, their legs tired and Villa eventually, finally, started to work the keeper. Lewis pushed a Benteke shot wide and there were a couple more scrambles.
In the 89th minute Benteke finally found the quality to test the keeper. A Sanchez chip across the edge of the box created holes in the weary Blackpool defence. Benteke took it on his chest, moved inside a poor tackle and half volleyed with power into the centre right of the goal. The keeper really should have saved it (think Lowton's volley vs Swansea in 2012), but Villa fans will be thankful they didn't. O'Hara went very close to equalising late on but Villa had enough to hang on.
Here's the goal:
Since the game was not available to stream it's difficult to say who the key protagonists were. By good fortune I managed to catch a few key moments on the BBC final score setup, as they showed a few key highlights during the game. Twitter reports from those at the game would suggest it will not live long in the memory, but Villa have scored a goal they are into the fourth round with a victory and that's all that needs to be remembered.
Westwood coming back from injury earlier than expected is a boost. Gabby missing with an alleged hamstring strain is a concern. Let's hope we can beat Leicester next weekend to make it two in a row before a very tough three-game run of Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. Up the Villa!
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