Bristol Rovers 1 Aston Villa 3: Three and easy for McLeish's men
Aston Villa survived a late rally from Bristol Rovers to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup at the Memorial Stadium.
Marc Albrighton gave the Premier League visitors a first-half lead before Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ciaran Clark struck after the break to put them in complete control.
Rovers, with caretaker boss Shaun North in charge following the midweek departure of Paul Buckle, battled gamely and pulled one back in added time through Scott McGleish, but the veteran then missed the chance to set up a thrilling finale as his penalty was saved by Brad Guzan.
Easy does it: Gabriel Agbonlahor celebrates the second goal
Bristol Rovers: Poke, Woodards, Downes, Bolger, Sawyer, Anyinsah, Stanley, Dorman, Carayol (McGleish 28), Zebroski, Richards (Brown 79).
Subs Not Used: Cronin, Smith, Anthony, McLaggon, Goddard.
Goal: McGleish 90.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Hutton, Dunne, Collins (Gardner 74), Warnock, Albrighton, Ireland, Petrov (Bannan 82), Clark, Bent, Heskey (Agbonlahor 46).
Subs Not Used: Marshall, N'Zogbia, Delph, Weimann.
Goals: Albrighton 35, Agbonlahor 64, Clark 78.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).
While his side are in the draw for the
next round, Villa boss Alex McLeish has injury worries over Emile Heskey
and James Collins who were forced off.
McLeish had named a strong side but, with a passionate full house behind
them, the League Two strugglers, who lie 74 places below Villa in the
league pyramid, made an encouraging start in their hunt for an upset.
Chris Zebroski raced past Stephen Warnock down the right and followed
that up with a strike from the edge of the area that was comfortably
saved by Guzan.
Villa did not help themselves by misplacing a number of passes on a
heavy surface, but they soon began to take a stranglehold on the game
without ever looking particularly impressive.
Chances soon followed as Heskey steered Stephen Ireland's inviting cross
over the bar before goalkeeper Michael Poke, making just his second
appearance since joining on loan from Brighton, made an excellent save
from the striker as he tipped his firm header to safety.
Albrighton rocks: The Villa winger (left) scored the opener
Aaron Downes was then forced into a wild sliced clearance after Stiliyan Petrov had headed beyond the goalkeeper moments later.
With the pressure building on Rovers it was no surprise when Villa's
first goal duly arrived in the 35th minute, Petrov's lovely pass
allowing Albrighton in behind the defence on the right side of the area
to fire through Poke's legs.
Warnock should have doubled their advantage three minutes later when
Ireland's cheeky dummy left the full-back in acres of space, but he
could only fire wastefully over.
Captain marvel: Stiliyan Petrov impressed for the visitors
Heskey was withdrawn at the interval after a recurrence of an Achilles problem, with Agbonlahor his replacement.
Rovers finally carved out their first genuine effort on goal early in
the second half as Joe Anyinsah found space on the right, but substitute
McGleish flashed wildly at his pull back.
That proved costly as Agbonlahor, who had looked lively since his arrival, gave Villa a two-goal cushion in the 64th minute.
Icing on the cake: Ciaran Clark scored a brilliant solo goal
The striker took advantage of a defensive slip by Cian Bolger to run in
on goal and calmly guide the ball into the bottom right-hand corner for
his sixth goal of the season.
Anyinsah, who was by far the home side's most threatening attacker, pushed an effort wide as Rovers continued to toil.
Villa suffered another blow when Gary Gardner replaced Collins, with the
Wales international limping off with what appeared to be a calf
Penalty miss: McGleish was denied a second goal by Brad Guzan
It did little to upset Villa's comfort as Clark seemingly sealed the win
with 12 minutes to go as the Republic of Ireland international cut in
from the right to curl home a low left-footed shot.
But the home side got a goal back in stoppage time when Richard Dunne's
woeful pass only succeeded in finding the loitering McGleish, who lofted
the ball over Guzan.
Hopes of the most unlikely of comebacks were raised when Warnock capped
his poor night by handling in the area seconds later, but McGleish's
weak spot-kick was simple for Guzan to keep out and the chance was gone.