Aston Villa 3 Port Vale 1
Milan Baros’ two-goal blast ensured Aston Villa avoided more humiliation against League One opposition as they reached the last 16 of the FA Cup for the first time in six seasons.
Villa had been dumped out of the Carling Cup 3-0 by Doncaster in November and for long periods there was the threat of gallant Vale causing a similar upset.
But Baros struck twice in the space of five minutes mid-way through the second half with his opener created by the first touch of substitute Kevin Phillips.
Vale were left to rue a glaring miss by striker Leon Constantine before the dead-lock had been broken but they can take immense pride from their overall performance.
Phillips certainly added more spark to Villa than the lethargic uan Pablo Angel who for the past 18 months has been a shadow of the player who scored 23 goals during the 2003-2004 campaign.
But for long periods Villa were more than matched by Martin Foyle’s side.
Villa were quickly on the offensive in bitterly cold conditions and the first opportunity fell to James Milner after he had seized onto a first time flick from Baros.
The on loan Newcastle player had time to steady himself before shooting but his low 20-yard effort lacked conviction and was comfortably saved by Mark Goodlad.
Vale were not over-awed and they stroked the ball around with confidence and came close to taking the lead after 22 minutes.
Thomas Sorensen, the man of the match in the goalless draw with Tottenham last weekend, made a mess of trying to deal with a centre from former Villa youngster Michael Husbands.
The impressive Sam Togwell had a split second to react and he could only send his header wide.
Back came Villa and Baros twice went close in the space of 60 seconds to opening the scoring.
The Czech international had the best of the game to date when running onto Hendrie’s well weighted pass but Goodlad was able to block with his body.
Then Baros created space for himself with a quick turn after Hendrie had played the ball into his feet but his eventual shot flew over the bar from 12 yards out.
There was another rare moment of excitement when Angel got on the end of Milner’s free-kick but his header from by the penalty spot flashed a yard wide and the half-time whistle was greeted by boos from the Holte End.
Sorsensen was looking nervy and he was caught in two minds by a deep cross from George Abbey at the start of the second period and allowed the ball to find its way through to Constantine.
Villa would have been in trouble had his close control been spot-on but he allowed the ball to slip under his foot and the chance went begging.
The volume of the Vale fans was increasing by the minute as they sensed they could cause an upset while Villa supporters chanted for the introduction of fit-again Phillips.
Hendrie had the chance to break the deadlock after 55 minutes when finding himself on the end of a deep cross from Milner but he went for an ambitious volley and failed to make proper contact.
Milner had an opportunity himself from an Aaron Hughes pass but his rising shot failed flew into the Holte End.
But Vale started to cause more problems and Husbands sent a powerful header straight at Sorsensen from Craig James’ cross.
Then Constantine missed the chance of the match after 64 minutes.
A pass from Innes was deflected into the path of Constantine who had a clear run at goal but from 12 out he dragged his shot wide.
The fans got their wishes granted with 22 minutes remaining with Phillips replacing the ineffective Angel.
And his first touch was decisive in helping Villa take the lead. Phillips threaded the ball into the path of Baros who clipped into the far corner of the net.
Baros looked to have made sure of victory for Villa five minutes later, heading home from close range after Olof Mellberg had turned Milner’s corner across the face of goal.
But Vale gave themselves a life-line when substitute Nathan Lowndes headed home James’ free-kick and then Sean Doherty shot over when well placed in a stirring finish.
Steven Davis restored Villa’s two-goal lead in injury-time from Hendrie’s cross – his seventh of the campaign.