Fight for FA Cup places, Sherwood tells Villa
20 April 2015, 08:22
London - Jubilant Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood challenged his players to earn FA Cup final places after they set up a May 30 showdown with holders Arsenal by impressively overcoming Liverpool.
Philippe Coutinho put Liverpool ahead in Sunday's semi-final at Wembley, but goals either side of half-time from Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph earned Villa a 2-1 win that took them into a first FA Cup final since 2000.
Villa have won six of their 11 games since Sherwood succeeded Paul Lambert in mid-February, pulling four points clear of the Premier League relegation zone, but he warned his players that there was still plenty of work to do.
"They'll only get here if they play well in the games remaining, so they're fighting for their places," said the former Tottenham Hotspur manager.
"We will be the underdog. The pressure's on Arsenal to win the cup. They're the holders and they want to win it again.
"But we have to put it on the back burner now. We realise we've got a lot of hard work between now and then. We need to secure our safety and then come back here and take the game to Arsenal."
Villa's chances of dethroning Arsenal have not been improved by an injury to centre-back Nathan Baker, who was forced off in the first half after aggravating a knee problem.
Sherwood said he was likely to miss the rest of the season and with Ciaran Clark also sidelined, it leaves Jores Okore, Baker's replacement on Sunday, and Ron Vlaar as Villa's only fit central defenders.
But Sherwood could also reflect on a remarkably composed performance by 19-year-old youth-team graduate Jack Grealish, who created Delph's 54th-minute winner with a cleverly disguised pass.
In a historial quirk, Grealish's great-great-grandfather Billy Garraty played in Villa's 1905 FA Cup success against Newcastle United and Sherwood said the teenager would not be fazed by the prospect of following in his ancestor's footsteps. 'Experiences will help'
"The bigger the stage, the better he plays," said Sherwood. "He relishes it. That's the sign of a good talent.
"Jack's someone I've looked at before I was at the club and then when I've seen him in training, when you give him an instruction, he sticks to the plan. He's got a big future at the football club."
Sherwood partly attributed his side's success to his decision to deploy two playmakers in Grealish and Charles N'Zogbia.
Beaten manager Brendan Rodgers made two changes to his side's formation -- from 3-4-2-1 to 4-2-3-1, and then to 4-3-3 at the start of the second half -- but neither adjustment proved effective.
Rodgers conceded that his team had been "second-best", although he was aggrieved to see substitute Mario Balotelli denied a stoppage-time equaliser by an erroneous offside flag, describing it as a "bad decision".
The defeat robbed Los Angeles Galaxy-bound captain Steven Gerrard of a chance to bow out in glory in the final, which falls on his 35th birthday, and extended Liverpool's run without a trophy to three years.
Their hopes of Champions League qualification are also fading, as they trail fourth-place Manchester City by seven points in the league, but with the club having also reached the last four in the League Cup, Rodgers said there were plenty of positives to take from their campaign.
"There's been a mixture really," he said. "The start of the season was not so good. There were various reasons behind that.
"Middle of the season we picked up and were playing very, very well and winning games with a great rhythm and flow to our game.
"And then this last little block of games, the performance level hasn't been what we would like. But we've reached two semi-finals. We need to have the courage and the bravery to play better in those games."
Rodgers added: "We're a team that's growing and that changed quite a bit in the summer. But all these experiences will hopefully help in the future."