It should have been a stroll for Aston Villa in a lop-sided Carling Cup second-round tie at Villa Park but it needed late goals from Eric Lichaj and Nathan Delfouneso to extinguish the defensive fire of battling Hereford United.
Lichaj broke Hereford's resistance with ten minutes remaining, firing home his first goal for the club after a goalmouth scramble, and Delfouneso, a substitute, eased the nagging fears of Alex McLeish, the new Villa manager, from close range in the final minute.
McLeish is still finding his feet after his controversial cross-town switch from Birmingham City during the summer. A 0-0 draw away to Fulham and a 3-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday appear to have won over – at least temporarily – those claret-and-blue fans who so vociferously opposed the arrival of the former Birmingham manager. It was not so much "Big 'Eck" but "Flippin' 'Eck" for the angry Villa die-hards.
Points bring gradual acceptance, though, and much was expected of the five-time League Cup winners, despite McLeish making eight changes to the side that had breezed past Blackburn. Darren Bent, Charles N'Zogbia and Richard Dunne survived the cull.
Still, Hereford should not have had a prayer. They lie 23rd in League Two – separated by 86 places from Villa – and picked up only their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. The 25 coachloads of fans who had travelled to Villa Park – the fares paid for by their club – at least made themselves heard loudly and regularly.
Not that they had much to cheer about. Villa ran the show in the first-half, with Marc Albrighton their most influential player on the right flank and N'Zogbia flitting to and fro with purpose if not any great end product. Only the most stubborn of defence, and an agile display from David Cornell, kept Hereford level at the break.
However, Villa did take time to warm to the occasion and allowed Harry Pell the luxury of a rare sight of goal early on. But he lacked composure and drove his shot weakly wide. From then on until the interval, it was a one-sided contest.
. Bent prepared to convert an Albrighton cross but Ryan Green heroically belted the ball clear at the last moment.
Cornell spectacularly tipped over a Ciaran Clark header, from another Albrighton cross, and then Albrighton cleverly exchanged passes with Jean II Makoun before blazing over. And so it went on, Cornell saving superbly after Bent had set up Stephen Ireland and also keeping out a far-post header from Bent. Nicky Featherstone replied on an isolated Hereford break but it did not trouble Brad Guzan.
It was a similar tale after the break with Albrighton continuing to thrive wide on the right, often cutting inside on to his favoured left foot. The trouble was, Cornell was nigh on unbeatable.
The Hereford goalkeeper saved smartly from Albrighton, after he had been released by Bent, and then produced a magnificent stop to finger-tip over a piledriver from Lichaj. N'Zogbia then dragged an effort wide ... and was promptly dragged off by McLeish and replaced by Nathan Delfouneso.
Hereford did manage to relieve the siege, once, when Joe Colbeck clipped over a nice free kick from the left flank. But Featherstone's cute headed backflick drifted just past the far post with Guzan groping thin air.
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