OH MY GOODNESS. WE WON! WE WON! WE'RE GOING TO PLAY FOR THE FA CUP FINAL! AHHHHHHHHH!
The first half was one of the most exciting and well-played halves of football we've gotten to see all year. Aston Villa came out playing fearlessly, and the impact of Tim Sherwood continued to make itself obvious. Liverpool had the obvious ability to exploit Leandro Bacuna with Philippe Coutinho and they did so often. Nevertheless, the centre-back pairing of Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker were able to handle things pretty well. On the other side of the pitch, Liverpool began with three at the back, and Villa spent a chunk of the first half trying to figure out how to break that down.
The tenor of the match changed, though, when Nathan Baker hurt his knee before the half hour mark. He came immediately off and Jores Okore took his place. Barely two minutes later, Liverpool came rampaging into the Villa box, and Okore and Fabian Delph both missed chances to clear the ball. Eventually the Reds worked it back in and Coutinho was able to skirt past Okore and slot the ball in for the goal in the 30th minute. It took only six minutes, however, for Villa to strike back. And who else could it have been, but Christian Benteke. After working the ball up the left side, Villa got the ball into the box and Benteke was able to take a right-footed volley past a diving Simon Mignolet.
Villa were then able to keep up the pressure, but Liverpool buckled down and the teams went into the half even at 1-1. It was a first half that saw Villa as the better team, but neither side could feel too hard done by with the score.
The second half saw Villa come out pressing still. Steven Gerard was moved back into a holding midfield role, a role in which he is TERRIBLE, and Villa exploited it almost immediately. In the 54th minute, Benteke made a run that looked for all the world as if he would take a shot, but he played a running backheel to Jack Grealish five yards behind him. Grealish, too, looked ready to shoot, but Fabian Delph was where Gerard should have been and Grealish gave him the chance. Delph got into the box, stepped to the right, and gave Villa the 2-1 lead.
From there, Villa didn't bunker. They kept attacking. And that might be the best sign of Tim Sherwood's impact on the club. Mario Balotelli scored in the late stages of the game, and that would have evened everything up, but the linesman put up the offisde flag. Let's get this totally clear: that flag was wrong. Liverpool should have evened things up. But they didn't, and we can't control that. So... uh... hooray? From there, Liverpool could muster nothing, and Villa were able to seal things up.
It was nerve-wracking. It was horrifying. And it was a remarkably well-played match from Aston Villa. They deserved the win, and they got it. Now let's save this season and win a cup, eh?
On to the quick thoughts.
- Jack Grealish looked like he was playing a pub-league game in the first half. He roved the pitch, created chances, and ran at defenders as if there were no pressure on him. He's not the best player at the club by a long shot right now, but he very well may be the most exciting part of being a Villa fan. There is so much potential there.
- I feel absolutely gutted for Nathan Baker. Okore has been great this year (especially considering how young he is) and he plays wonderfully with Clark. But Baker is probably a better player right now, and he just can't get time on the pitch because he keeps getting injured. Here's hoping he gets a chance as the season winds down.
- I wrote the following in my notes: "Coutinho making his way up the left side means that Bacuna is going to get burned at some point. I wrote this in the 7th minute. Let's see if it plays out." The first goal was not Bacuna's fault. Will update in the second half.
- That backheel from Benteke. I mean, my god. Straight back, while running, and at least five yards behind him. Amazing.
- I hate the football injury gods. Baker obviously got it, but Benteke, too was limping around a bit. And seconds after Sherwood took off N'Zogbia for Scott Sinclair, Ashley Westwood was rolling around. Hate you, injury gods. So much.
- Joe Cole coming on as the last sub was a stupid choice. It ended up not mattering, but the match could have very easily gone to extra time, and Cole doesn't have the legs for that.
- Kieran Richardson is terrible.
- Who cares, though? He did just enough today, including heading a sure-thing goal off the line in the match's dying minutes.
- Update on Bacuna: he never got thrashed by Coutinho!