Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill claimed James Milner is "a great player" after his stunning winner in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg victory against Blackburn.
Milner galloped over the halfway line in the 23rd minute, released Stewart Downing and then got on the end of his cross to complete an exceptional move. It was the England midfielder's fifth goal in 11 games and gives Villa a slight advantage going into the home leg next Wednesday.
After the 1-0 victory O'Neill said: "It was a great goal by a great player. He is showing splendid form. He has settled in so comfortably in central midfield. It is as if he has been there all his career."
He added: "Sometimes it is very difficult if you are trying to make goals from wide. But he has that licence now he is inside and James is really enjoying himself.
"Great midfield players are able to carry the ball distances and are able to finish it off. That's what James did.
"I think he felt himself there was goals in his game and he was capable of doing that. It was great interplay with Stewart Downing. Downing still had a lot to do before producing a great cross. James follows it on the ball and puts it in the net.
"It was a big goal for us at the time and we proceeded to play really well after that."
O'Neill was angered that referee Mark Clattenburg chose to book Gabriel Agbonlahor for simulation instead of awarding a penalty following a challenge by Chris Samba and the Villa boss also thought a spot-kick should have been awarded following Pascal Chimbonda's handball.
O'Neill said: "The referee has chosen to book Gabby for diving. To accuse him of seeking an advantage, there no chance of that. On top of that a couple of weeks ago at Arsenal, Ashley Young ended up in an ambulance after the referee said he dived.
"That was ridiculous, crazy. Then the referee gives a free kick when one of their players (Chimbonda) blatantly handled the ball."
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