Aston Villa will meet holders Arsenal in the FA Cup final next month after goals from Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph gave them a 2-1 win over Liverpool in a pulsating semi-final at Wembley on Sunday.
Villa’s unexpected but thoroughly deserved come-from-behind victory ended Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard’s dream of bringing his 17-year career at Anfield to a close with a cup winner’s medal on his 35th birthday in the final on May 30.
Tim Sherwood, who has revitalised Villa since replacing Paul Lambert as manager in February, told reporters: “We bamboozled them. They could not cope with our tactics and I think we were the better side.”
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said: “We were nervous for some reason. Maybe when you want to win something so much, perhaps it plays on your mind. We were second best today.”
Liverpool made the breakthrough in the 30th minute when Philippe Coutinho scored after sloppy Villa defending.
But Villa, who last won the cup in 1957, were only behind for six minutes before they deservedly equalised when skipper Delph, guilty for his part in the build-up to the Liverpool goal, did everything right in the move that led to Villa’s.
He surged forward before playing a one-two with Jack Grealish and crossing for Benteke whose first time shot flew past goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Villa went ahead nine minutes into the second half when Delph scored after another superb move which included a Benteke backheel and a Grealish through ball for his captain who cut in and gave Mignolet no chance from 12 metres.
The opening spell was cagey but Villa more than held their own against a Liverpool side who had Gerrard back after a three-match suspension.
But the Liverpool skipper, who has strutted the Wembley pitch so many times for England, made little impact even though his side took the early lead.
Villa, though, were far from deflated and levelled when Benteke struck his ninth goal in his last seven matches.
Rodgers continually tinkered with his formation and brought striker Mario Balotelli on as a halftime replacement for Lazar Markovic but the Italian never seriously troubled the Villa back line.
He fluffed one glancing header, although the linesman’s flag was in any case raised for offside, and then, with time running out, he did put the ball in the net only to be ruled offside again, this time more controversially.
Gerrard’s final act in the drama saw his looping header cleared off the line by Kieran Richardson as Villa held on for a famous win.