Aston Villa took a giant stride towards Wembley as James Milner's first-half goal gave them victory in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg at Blackburn Rovers.
Milner rounded off a devastating break after 23 minutes when he turned in Stewart Downing's cross as Villa swept the length of the field.
It gave Martin O'Neill's side a deserved advantage and provided a rich reward for Villa's attacking strategy as they dominated a jaded Blackburn side playing their second game this week.
Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce felt the full force of Ewood Park's fury as his side laboured to make any impression on Villa in the early exchanges, with the half-time whistle being greeted by a chorus of jeering.
But Blackburn improved hugely after the break only to find their luck was out as striker Nikola Kalinic twice hit the woodwork, firstly with a close-range header, then with a shot from 12 yards.
Tie still in the balance - O'Neill
Villa always carried the greater threat and will now be firm favourites to progress to a Carling Cup final date against either Manchester City or Manchester United, after Wednesday's second leg at Villa Park.
Blackburn's winless sequence now stretches to 12 games, although they did knock Chelsea out of this competition on penalties.
But it is hard to see how they will turn this semi-final around on the evidence of current form.
That would leave Allardyce and Blackburn with a fight for Premier League survival as their only goal for the rest of the season, a task to be played out in front of what appears to be an increasingly disenchanted Ewood Park public.
Allardyce employed Kalinic as a lone striker from the start - but he was knocking at a firmly closed door for long periods as he attempted to get the better of Villa's central defensive duo, Richard Dunne and James Collins.
Blackburn's best moment of a frustrating opening half came after just three minutes, when David Dunn's shot on the turn was only inches off target with Villa keeper Brad Guzan - in for the rested Brad Friedel - beaten.
Villa boss O'Neill had demonstrated his attacking intent by supporting Emile Heskey with the pace and width provided by Milner, Downing, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
And the ploy paid off to perfection after 23 minutes when Milner concluded a sweeping Villa move that caught Blackburn on the break, turning Downing's cross beyond the reach of Paul Robinson at the near post.
Agbonlahor then thought he should have had a penalty when he was tripped by Christopher Samba.
It looked like he had a case but referee Mark Clattenburg not only ignored his appeals, but added insult to injury by booking the Villa striker.
Ewood Park was becoming an increasingly discontented place, with Allardyce the target for chants of "Big Sam Sort It Out" when Morten Gamst Pedersen placed a cross hopelessly into the travelling band of Villa supporters.
Robinson kept Blackburn in contention on the stroke of half-time, when he saved superbly down at his near post from Stiliyan Petrov's shot.
The reaction of Blackburn's fans as the whistle sounded for the interval told the tale of their satisfaction - and underlined the supremacy enjoyed by Villa.
Villa should have added a second in the opening moments of the second half when Young's cross flew right across the face of Blackburn's goal, with Agbonlahor just unable to add the finishing touch.
Allardyce rues Villa sucker punch
Blackburn finally broke the shackles when Kalinic rose to beat Dunne to Pedersen's cross, but could only direct his header against an upright from eight yards.
It was a passage of play that at least gave Blackburn's suffering supporters hope and Dunn provided further encouragement when he pulled a presentable chance wide from Pascal Chimbonda's knockdown.
Kalinic's luck was out again after 65 minutes, when the woodwork came to Villa's rescue once more as the striker met Chimbonda's cross with a crisp first-time shot.
Suddenly it was Villa's turn to be forced on to the back foot as Blackburn's effort to draw level gathered momentum.
Blackburn, however, always remained vulnerable to the Villa counter-attack, and Young reminded them of the threat when he burst into the penalty area but shot wide.
Both sides had chances in stoppage time, with Robinson saving well from Agbonlahor and Steven Nzonzi heading over - and the celebrations of the Villa fans at the final whistle suggested that they feel they have completed the most difficult part of their mission to return to Wembley.
Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce: "It was a disappointing first half for two reasons: we didn't play and we gave away a very sloppy goal.
"In the second half, we created the chances but we didn't put them away. We hit the woodwork twice.
"Unfortunately, that's the way it is at the moment. It always goes the wrong way for us.
"If we're going to have a chance to get through to the final we have to score the first goal.
"It'll be more difficult to create chances at Villa Park. We've got to make sure when they come that we're clinical enough to take them."
Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill: "It could have been better, but we would have accepted coming to Ewood Park and winning the game.
"Gabby Agbonlahor was booked for diving when it was a penalty, then there was a handball by them and the free-kick went the other way.
"They're major decisions because it gave some relief to Blackburn and they came out strongly in second half.
90:00+3:13 The referee signals the end of the game.
90:00+2:05 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by David Dunn from the left by-line, Steven Nzonzi produces a header from inside the
area that goes over the bar.
89:30 Ashley Young produces a cross, Gabriel Agbonlahor takes a shot. Save by Paul Robinson.
89:30 Booking Benedict McCarthy booked for unsporting behaviour.
89:19 Stewart Downing fouled by Benedict McCarthy, the ref awards a free kick.
88:52 Stewart Downing takes a short corner.
88:17 Short corner worked by Stewart Downing, clearance by David Dunn.
87:21 Ashley Young sends in a cross.
85:40 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Richard Dunne by Nikola Kalinic. Richard Dunne restarts play with the free kick.
85:00 James Collins takes a shot. Pascal Chimbonda gets a block in.
84:45 Outswinging corner taken by Ashley Young.
84:12 James Milner takes a shot. Brett Emerton manages to make a clearance.
81:11 Steven Nzonzi gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor. Direct free kick taken by Stephen Warnock.
80:26 Centre by David Dunn, clearance by Stephen Warnock.
79:56 The ball is sent over by Pascal Chimbonda.
79:48 The ball is crossed by Steven Reid, clearance made by Steve Sidwell.
79:22 The ball is swung over by Stewart Downing, Christopher Samba manages to make a clearance.
78:58 Outswinging corner taken by Benedict McCarthy.
78:35 Outswinging corner taken by Benedict McCarthy from the right by-line played to the near post, Steve Sidwell makes a clearance.
78:16 Brett Emerton takes a shot. Save by Bradley Guzan.
77:16 A cross is delivered by Pascal Chimbonda, Steve Sidwell manages to make a clearance.
76:57 The ball is delivered by Brett Emerton, clearance made by Richard Dunne.
75:03 Effort from deep inside the area by Ashley Young misses to the right of the target.
74:10 Substitution Benedict McCarthy joins the action as a substitute, replacing Morten Gamst Pedersen.
72:14 Free kick awarded for a foul by Nikola Kalinic on Stiliyan Petrov. James Collins takes the direct free kick.
70:38 Substitution Michel Salgado goes off and Steven Reid comes on.
70:25 Substitution Emile Heskey goes off and Steve Sidwell comes on.
69:11 Corner taken right-footed by Ashley Young, Shot by Stewart Downing. Martin Olsson gets a block in.
69:03 The ball is swung over by Ashley Young, David Dunn manages to make a clearance.
68:50 The ball is delivered by James Milner, clearance by Martin Olsson.
68:39 Stewart Downing produces a cross.
68:20 Shot from 25 yards by Pascal Chimbonda. Blocked by Stephen Warnock.
68:03 Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Morten Gamst Pedersen from the right by-line, clearance by James Collins.
67:54 The ball is crossed by Brett Emerton, blocked by Stewart Downing.
66:42 David Dunn handles the ball and concedes a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Bradley Guzan.
65:11 Brett Emerton sends in a cross.
64:51 Centre by Pascal Chimbonda, Nikola Kalinic takes a shot from a just insdie the penalty box and hits the post.
61:41 Corner taken by David Dunn from the left by-line played to the near post, Stiliyan Petrov manages to make a clearance.
61:05 Martin Olsson fouled by Gabriel Agbonlahor, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Paul Robinson.
59:30 Corner taken left-footed by Morten Gamst Pedersen from the right by-line, Richard Dunne makes a clearance.
58:34 Stephen Warnock concedes a free kick for a foul on Michel Salgado. Free kick crossed by Morten Gamst Pedersen, clearance made
by James Milner.
57:20 Martin Olsson produces a cross, Effort from deep inside the area by David Dunn misses to the right of the goal.
56:43 The ball is delivered by Ashley Young, Pascal Chimbonda makes a clearance.
56:22 The ball is sent over by Martin Olsson.
55:04 Unfair challenge on Bradley Guzan by Morten Gamst Pedersen results in a free kick. Bradley Guzan takes the free kick.
54:31 Inswinging corner taken by David Dunn, James Collins manages to make a clearance.
54:06 Morten Gamst Pedersen produces a cross, Martin Olsson produces a header from deep inside the area and hits the post.
52:19 Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing.
49:38 David Dunn challenges James Milner unfairly and gives away a free kick. Stephen Warnock takes the free kick.
49:10 The ball is sent over by Ashley Young.
48:42 The ball is crossed by Michel Salgado, clearance by James Collins.
Correction - 46:10 James Collins gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Nikola Kalinic. The free kick is delivered left-footed by
Morten Gamst Pedersen from left wing, Carlos Cuellar manages to make a clearance.
46:10 Foul by James Collins on Nikola Kalinic, awarded.
45:51 James Milner takes a shot. Paul Robinson makes a save.
45:09 Morten Gamst Pedersen challenges Carlos Cuellar unfairly and gives away a free kick. Bradley Guzan takes the free kick.
45:01 The referee gets the second half underway.
45:01 Substitution Martin Olsson replaces Lars Jacobsen.
45:00+2:25 The referee calls an end to the first half.
45:00+1:26 Corner taken right-footed by Ashley Young, Carlos Cuellar concedes a free kick for a foul on Christopher Samba. Direct free
kick taken by Paul Robinson.
45:00+1:10 Stiliyan Petrov takes a shot. Save by Paul Robinson.
44:43 James Collins fouled by Nikola Kalinic, the ref awards a free kick. Bradley Guzan restarts play with the free kick.
43:26 Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Ashley Young, clearance made by Christopher Samba.
42:11 The ball is delivered by Morten Gamst Pedersen.
41:47 Ashley Young produces a cross, save by Paul Robinson.
41:07 The ball is crossed by Michel Salgado, James Collins manages to make a clearance.
40:39 The ball is delivered by Morten Gamst Pedersen, blocked by Carlos Cuellar.
38:44 Booking Gabriel Agbonlahor is cautioned.
36:43 Michel Salgado challenges Stiliyan Petrov unfairly and gives away a free kick. Bradley Guzan restarts play with the free kick.
34:12 Brett Emerton sends in a cross, Richard Dunne manages to make a clearance.
33:45 Foul by Emile Heskey on Brett Emerton, free kick awarded. Paul Robinson takes the direct free kick.
30:56 David Dunn takes a shot. Blocked by Stephen Warnock.
28:01 Centre by Brett Emerton, clearance made by Stephen Warnock.
25:28 The ball is delivered by Morten Gamst Pedersen, Bradley Guzan makes a save.
Correction - 22:07 The assist for the goal came from Stewart Downing.
Correction - 22:07 GOAL - James Milner:Blackburn 0 - 1 Aston Villa James Milner finds the back of the net with a goal from close in to the bottom left corner of the goal. Blackburn 0-1 Aston
22:07 Stewart Downing provided the assist for the goal.
22:07 GOAL - James Milner:Blackburn 0 - 1 Aston Villa James Milner grabs a goal from inside the penalty box to the bottom left corner of the goal. Blackburn 0-1 Aston Villa.
Correction - 22:03 The ball is swung over by Stewart Downing,
22:03 Centre by Stewart Downing,
21:07 Gabriel Agbonlahor is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Paul Robinson takes the indirect free kick.
20:35 Gabriel Agbonlahor takes a shot. Save by Paul Robinson.
20:13 Ashley Young sends in a cross, clearance by Christopher Samba.
19:22 Unfair challenge on Stiliyan Petrov by David Dunn results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Richard Dunne.
18:57 Ashley Young takes a inswinging corner to the near post, clearance made by Christopher Samba.
18:44 Corner taken by Stewart Downing from the right by-line, clearance made by Ryan Nelsen.
18:21 Stewart Downing takes a shot. Ryan Nelsen gets a block in.
18:00 Ashley Young decides to take a short corner.
17:53 The ball is swung over by Ashley Young, clearance by Christopher Samba.
16:47 Nikola Kalinic gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Stephen Warnock. Free kick taken by Richard Dunne.
13:23 Handball decision goes against Morten Gamst Pedersen. Richard Dunne takes the free kick.
12:22 Michel Salgado produces a cross, James Collins manages to make a clearance.
11:30 Emile Heskey takes a shot. Christopher Samba gets a block in.
9:02 Pass corner from left by-line taken by Ashley Young to short.
8:31 Corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing from the right by-line, Ryan Nelsen manages to make a clearance.
7:06 The assistant referee flags for offside against David Dunn. Free kick taken by Bradley Guzan.
6:19 Ashley Young has an effort at goal from outside the area missing to the wide right of the target.
5:51 Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Ashley Young, clearance made by Christopher Samba.
5:27 The ball is delivered by Stewart Downing, Ashley Young takes a shot. Pascal Chimbonda gets a block in.
3:41 Morten Gamst Pedersen takes a corner.
3:23 Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Morten Gamst Pedersen, save by Bradley Guzan.
3:02 Effort from the edge of the penalty box by David Dunn goes wide of the right-hand upright.
0:51 Nikola Kalinic is ruled offside. Richard Dunne takes the indirect free kick.
0:00 The match gets underway.
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