On a cold Sunday afternoon in Kent, Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neil put out his strongest side against League Two opponents Gillingham.
After the late exclusion of Gabby Agbonlahor due to illness, youth team star Nathan Delfouneso—preferred to the more experienced Marlon Harewood—had a chance to impress his manager in the lone striker role, whilst Villa was also missing stars Cuellar, Bouma and Barry.
Gillingham fielded a line-up of attacking intent, with much expected of tricky widemen Oli and Barcham supporting frontman Simeon Jackson.
Early on, the Premier League team lacked fluency and struggled to put any incisive moves together on a bobbly surface affected by the overnight frost.
However, their class was evident in the 13th minute.
Milner picked up the ball after a mistake by Gills defender Miller, played a one-two with Petrov on the left side of the box and curled the ball accurately into the far corner, beyond the outstretched arm of Simon Royce.
Gillingham was never out of the game and right winger Oli clipped the side netting seven minutes later after a cut back by Mulligan.
Most of Villa's defensive problems were arising on the flanks and captain Reo-Coker in particular was being tested by the tireless Barcham.
O'Neill's men were becoming increasingly frustrated at a lack of possession and this sentiment was reflected in the clumsy tackles that led to bookings for both their skipper and centre back Curtis Davies.
As half-time approached, Delfouneso had a great chance when played in by Milner from the right but miscued his volley.
The home side came out after the break with more belief and purpose and this spirit was recognised by the 11,000 fans who were baying for claret blood.
This support was rewarded when Simeon Jackson taught his profligate counterpart Delfouneso a harsh lesson in the art of finishing.
Jackson, once a trialist with both Manchester Premier League clubs, picked up a loose ball 30 yards from goal on Villa's left, swiftly turned the less agile Zat Knight, and ferociously fired the ball pass the oncoming Brad Friedel and in off the near post.
Martin O'Neill was becoming increasingly incensed at Villa's lack of guile and composure and the over-zealousness which several Gillingham players showed in their attempts to deprive his star player Young of possession on the left flank.
Despite the close attention of right-back Stewart Lewis and a cynical tackle by Mark Bentley which incensed O'Neill, Young began to finally come into the game and it took an excellent tackle from Lewis to prevent him from putting his side into the lead.
O'Neill—never one to hide his emotions—was clearly worried. In an effort to put the home side on the back foot, he swapped Delfouneso's energy for Harewood's more forceful approach with 15 minutes left.
As Gillingham faded, the Villains forced their way increasingly further up the pitch and looked to win the tie with one swift but deadly counter-attack.
Appropriately in the context of the match, it was record signing James Milner that won the match in the 79th minute with a low spotkick after Miller bundled over Young in the penalty box. The decision was correct but difficult to accept as both players collided unintentionally.
Thereafter, Aston Villa successfully kept the ball in the right areas of the pitch and should have increased the lead in stoppage time only for Ashley Young to miscontrol a through pass from Knight.
Aston Villa now face another tricky visit to Cheltenham or Doncaster but manager O'Neill will be pleased with a resolute performance as he seeks Cup glory to add to League success.
Gillingham 1 (0) ASTON VILLA 2 (1)
Jackson '57 Milner '13, '79
Man of the Match
Gillingham: Royce 6; Lewis 8, Bentley 6, King 7, Nutter 6; Oli 7, Weston 6, Miller 7, Barcham 7; Mulligan 6, Jackson 8
Aston Villa: Friedel 7; Reo-Coker 5, Knight 6, Davies 7, Shorey 6; Milner 8, Petrov 7, Sidwell 5, Gardner 6, Young 7; Delfouneso 5 (Harewood 6)
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!