Milner’s strike puts Villa in sight of Wembley final


JAMES MILNER’S first-half strike helped Aston Villa take a big step towards a Wembley final, while piling on the misery for under-fire Rovers boss Sam Allardyce.

Milner finished off a classic breakaway move midway through the half, turning in Stewart Downing’s cross to hand Martin O’Neill’s side the advantage ahead of next Wednesday’s second leg at Villa Park.

Rovers came close to restoring parity with Nikola Kalinic twice hitting the woodwork in the second half, but the result will do nothing to ease the pressure on Allardyce, whose side have now gone 12 matches without a win.

“We can’t find the back of the net and that’s a real disappointment, particularly tonight for Niko Kalinic,” Allardyce said. “We gave a spirited performance in the second half. What more can we do? Not a lot, but hopefully next time it will turn in our favour when we get a chance in front of goal.”

O’Neill, meanwhile, was angry with referee Mark Clattenburg for booking Gabriel Agbonlahor for diving after falling under Chris Samba’s challenge in the penalty box.

“It looks a penalty to me, the referee would have to make that decision,” O’Neill said. “We’ve had an incident before where Ashley Young was upended against Arsenal, he ends up getting booked and misses the next match when he has been put into the air three times, falls almost on his head and the referee decides that’s a dive.

“I’m getting just a bit annoyed about it, because that’s two players here who referees have decided are cheating and I think that’s grossly unfair, I’m not best pleased with it to be honest.”

Milner struck the only goal on 23 minutes after playing a one-two with Downing and running the length of the pitch to get on the end of the former Middlesbrough man’s cross.

Villa then had a second penalty claim turned down after Pascal Chimbonda appeared to handle, before Rovers upped the ante after the break with Kalinic hitting the post with a close-range header and then a curling effort.

Relieved O’Neill surmised: “It was a tough game and it’s still undecided. We’ve got a bit of an advantage.”