Villa boss hails his Carling Cup stars

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Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill believes his players "grew up" on an amazing 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 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," said O'Neill.

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. I thought we started nervously, conceding two goals, and Wembley was a fair distance away at that stage," reflected O'Neill.

"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.

"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."

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