AT WEMBLEY STADIUM
ASTON VILLA 2 LIVERPOOL 1
ASTON Villa manager Tim Sherwood insisted his tactics had “bamboozled” Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers after guiding his side to a first FA Cup final since 2000 with victory over the Reds at Wembley yesterday.
Sherwood has rejuvenated Villa during his 10 matches in charge and also invigorated striker Christian Benteke, who cancelled out Philippe Coutinho’s opener before a second-half winner from skipper Fabian Delph.
Rodgers is now the only Reds boss since Phil Taylor in the 1950s not to land a trophy inside three years at the helm, and repeatedly attempted to conjure a gameplan to out-smart Sherwood’s tactical ploy.
Holders Arsenal stand in the way of Villa’s first FA Cup success since 1957 and former Tottenham boss Sherwood admitted the Villans will again relish the underdogs tag in the 30 May final.
“We normally go very direct and use our pace down the sides and I think Liverpool expected us to do that, but we played it nice and short through the thirds and they were a little bit bamboozled,” said Sherwood.
“When I first came to the club I couldn’t believe Villa had only scored 12 [Premier League] goals. There must have been something wrong and I reviewed the tapes and realised the strikers weren’t getting the service. We can stretch teams and batter them but we also have a good mixture and put that into practice brilliantly today.
“We will be the underdogs in the final. Arsenal are the holders and are probably the best footballing side in the league. The pressure is on them to win the cup. We’ll need a plan but we believe we can cause them problems.”
Liverpool surged into the lead after half an hour when Coutinho clipped past the advancing Shay Given from Raheem Sterling’s pass, taking advantage of ponderous defending by substitute Jores Okore and Delph.
Parity was re-established six minutes later. The impish Jack Grealish, the architect of Villa’s most productive play, released Delph and his cut-back was sidefooted home by Benteke for his ninth goal in seven matches.
Seven-time winners Liverpool were rocking nine minutes after the restart when teenager Grealish again laid the foundations with a composed flick for Delph to jink inside and fire past Simon Mignolet right-footed from 10 yards. Skipper Steven Gerrard, so often Liverpool’s saviour, saw a header cleared off the line by Kieran Richardson, as any chance of ending his Anfield career with a trophy-lifting, Wembley swansong dissipated.
Rodgers said: “I think sometimes you can want to win too much. The big-game mentality is something we need to improve. I tried to spark some energy and flow into our game but we were too passive throughout.”