Eagles denied by late Petrov header

Villa will now be favourites to seal a quarter-final spot in the

replay at Villa Park but Palace can be proud of their performance

at Selhust Park on Sunday. A replay a week on Wednesday will pay

off another chunk of their £30million debts and, judging by

their performance in this game, Villa’s favourites tag will not

overaw them. After all, the Eagles had looked to be heading through

to the last eight at the first attempt when Darren Ambrose made it

2-1 with a superb 35-yard free-kick, but Petrov headed a second

equaliser three minutes from time to save Villa’s blushes. It was

harsh on the hosts, who looked good value for their lead and had

restricicted their Premier League opposition to next to no attacks

in the second half. But Petrov’s goal three minutes from time

leaves Palace hoping they can cash in on another televised

encounter to bring in another £250,000 and further ease their

financial woes. To say Palace were up against in this tie was an

understatement. The club went into administration a fortnight ago

with those staggering debts. The players’ futures are uncertain,

manager Neil Warnock does not know if he will be in a job from one

week to the next and the canteen lady has not been paid for two

months. There have been lots of beans and toast on the menu at the

club’s Beckenham training ground but you cannot fault the spirit in

the side. And for long periods in an entertaining, at times

pulsating cup tie, they gave as good as they got. As good as

Warnock had promised, in fact, when he predicted they would not go

down without the mother of all scraps. Ambrose up front was a

constant threat. Neil Danns was also a menace and if Danny

Butterfield could not conjure up the six-minute hat-trick which

dispatched Wolves in the last round then he epitomised the buckets

of sweat shed by the south London team. But give Villa credit.

Martin O’Neill paid Palace the respect of fielding his strongest

side with Emile Heskey up front and Stewart Downing and James

Milner in midfield. But it was Palace who took the lead after 24

minutes from an unlikely source. Austrian defender Johnny Ertl had

never scored for Palace in two years at the club. But he might well

never have had a better delivery come his way, a corner swung in by

Ambrose which homed in on Ertl’s bald pate. A quick flick of the

neck and the ball flew past goalkeeper Friedel and the cup upset

appeared to be on, even if the goal did come against the run of

play. If Danns’ crisp shot had also found its way past Friedel then

Villa would have been in trouble. As it was Villa composed

themselves and announced their intention to scrap just as hard as

their Championship rivals. When the equaliser came it had the mark

of England quality. It was also a carbon-copy of the Palace goal.

This time it was Downing who threw in an inswinging delivery from

the right and Villa defender James Collins rose above everyone to

head home from inside the six-yard box. It was no more than Villa

deserved, although the last action of the first half saw Friedel

scrambling away a 25-yard thunderbolt of a free-kick from Ambrose.

Villa should have taken note, especially when Ambrose lined up

another in he 69th minute. This one was further out, some 30 yards

or more, but the strike was even better this time, arrow straight

and it was past the despairing dive of Friedel in the blink of an

eye. What a wonderful strike. What a way to win a football match.

Except it did not. Because Petrov swooped to get Villa out of jail.

They barely deserved it.