x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Aston Villa triumph over Blackburn

James Milner grabs the only goal in the 1-0 League Cup semi-final first leg win over Blackburn.

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill heaped praise on James Milner after the midfielder grabbed the only goal in the 1-0 League Cup semi-final first leg win over Blackburn yesterday. The 24-year-old has now scored five goals in his last 11 appearances and has a total of seven for the season. The return to fitness of Stewart Downing has meant that Milner has shifted from right midfield into the centre and O'Neill thinks that switch has taken Milner's game to another level. "It was a great goal by a great player. He's playing splendidly at the moment and he's settled in so comfortably there in central midfield as if he's played there all his career," said the Villa coach. "I think he felt himself that there were goals in his game and he was capable of doing that and sometimes it's very difficult when you're trying to make goals from wide areas to be in positions to score goals. "But in-field he's got that licence to roam. Stiliyan Petrov allows him to and join up and James is really enjoying himself at the moment." Meanwhile, O'Neill warned his team that they are far from certain of a place in the final despite the second leg of the semi-final to come next week at Villa Park. Villa were comfortably the better team against a Blackburn side that has now failed to win in 90 minutes in 12 matches since November 7. But O'Neill remains cautious about his team's prospects of reaching a major final for the first time since the FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea at Wembley in 2000. "Considering we were away from home we played splendidly. It was very pleasing indeed. I thought we were always a threat and the tie is still very much in the balance," said the Northern Irishman. "Blackburn are capable of coming away from home and winning so we will have to be very strong again and we will have to try to win the game." Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce feels his team have to score first in the return leg to have any chance of reaching Wembley. Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic hit the post twice in the second period of the first leg to sum up Rovers' frustration. Allardyce acknowledges that Villa will now be over-whelming favourites to reach a final against either Manchester United or Manchester City but is refusing to give up. He said: "It's a huge task. We wanted something out of this game and a little bit more than just a 1-0. "Overall we deserved at least a 1-1 and we did enough in the second half to create chances that we're looking for but it's our Achilles heel yet again. "Hopefully it'll start in the return leg and if that's the case you always need that little bit of fortune to get all the way to Wembley." Allardyce insists he will keep faith with Kalinic, 22, who has managed just three goals since joining in a six million pound move from Hadjuk Split last summer. "It's great that he's getting there. If he keeps getting in those positions and we keep supplying that sort of service, he will score," said Allardyce. * AFP