O'Neill: Villa players came of age
Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill believes his players "grew up" on a night that culminated in the club ending a 10-year wait to reach a showpiece final.
Villa will contest the Carling Cup final against either Manchester United or Manchester City following a 6-4 victory over Blackburn in the second leg of a pulsating last-four clash at Villa Park, winning 7-4 on aggregate.
A brace from Nikola Kalinic inside 26 minutes rocked O'Neill's side, only for former Rovers defender Stephen Warnock to haul Villa level on aggregate before Chris Samba's dismissal turned the tie on its head.
After James Milner converted the penalty for Samba's challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor, Villa swept into the final with three goals in nine second-half minutes.
An own goal from Steven Nzonzi, a Milner strike that deflected off Agbonlahor and an Emile Heskey header saw Villa home.
However, they still conceded two more as Martin Olsson and Brett Emerton restored some pride for Rovers, only for Ashley Young to finish matters in injury time.
"It was an extraordinary amazing game, no doubt about that. I was almost losing count of what was happening," reflected O'Neill.
"I thought we started nervously, conceding two goals, and Wembley was a fair distance away at that stage.
"But we finally got a bit of life into us, fought back brilliantly, and we got back to 2-1.
"At that point I always felt we would score again, but not in my wildest dreams did I believe the score would end up 6-4. It was 6-4 wasn't it?
"I'm just really pleased for the team, which I know is a cliched old phrase, but I'm really delighted for them.
"They've had to fight back, whilst the crowd were obviously getting very anxious and frustrated, and they grew up tonight.
"We made a lot of mistakes in the game, and even at 5-2 the euphoria of getting into that position meant we lost concentration.
"But overall I am absolutely delighted, and pleased to get to Wembley, which will give the players an enormous boost of confidence to go on.
"A night like this, they haven't come round too often at this club in the last 25 years or so. We should be contesting these kind of games more often."
Allardyce, perhaps with a touch of sour grapes, bemoaned referee Martin Atkinson for failing to spot a shove from Agbonlahor on captain Ryan Nelsen that allowed Warnock to make it 2-1.
Atkinson's decision allowed the game to certainly shift in Villa's favour, much to Allardyce's angst.
Allardyce said: "It's a bit difficult to take, scoring four goals and not getting through to the final.
"We were in complete control of the game, and if anybody is going to score to make it 3-0 it's us.
"But then the referee allows a blatant foul on Ryan Nelsen to go unpunished, and at this level you have to make sure the referee gets those decisions right.
"We are out of a cup final because of that decision perhaps.
"Whatever anybody might say, we were put in a position we should not have been put in.
"It lifted the crowd, it lifted Villa because they were playing very poorly, but then they are on their game.
"You could look at the fourth goal and say Agbonlahor had two arms on it and deflected it into the net for 4-2.
"Everybody thinks it's over, we're down to 10 men anyway, but then we managed to get back to 5-4.
"But the major part of us not getting through to the final is the referee, no question about it.
"Unfortunately, we have to suffer that. There's nothing we can do about it and we can't go to where we want to go, which is Wembley, and he is the major factor."
Dismissing Allardyce's remarks, O'Neill countered: "We've played two legs, and it's only six days ago since we could have complained about Gabby being fouled in the area, only to be booked when it was a clear penalty.
"Then two to three minutes before half-time when we are leading 1-0 and one of their players deliberately handled the ball. We could go on forever and a day.
"But at the end of it all, over two legs, we deserved to go through."