Conor Gallagher scored the equaliser as Chelsea fought back from two goals down to clinch a deserved 2-2 draw with Champions League-chasing Aston Villa on Saturday.

Villa looked set to go nine points clear of Tottenham in the race to finish in the Premier League's top four, with Marc Cucurella's own goal and Morgan Rogers' low drive giving them a handsome half-time lead.

Mauricio Pochettino's men dominated much of the first half without reward, but they continued to press after the interval and cultured finishes from Noni Madueke and Gallagher dragged them level.

They almost completed a fine comeback in stoppage time, but there was relief for Villa when referee Craig Pawson disallowed a goal for Chelsea defender Axel Disasi following a VAR review due to an infringement from Benoit Badiashile.

It meant Villa boss Unai Emery was unable to celebrate his new long-term contract with three points, with his team now seven points clear of fifth-placed Spurs, who have three games in hand on their rivals.

Chelsea stay ninth and are five points adrift of the top seven, but with a game in hand to come, their European hopes are not yet over.

Villa made a flying start and were ahead within four minutes, albeit in somewhat fortunate circumstances. John McGinn didn't get a clean connection on Lucas Digne's left-wing cutback, but his shot bounced off Cucurella and into the net.

Chelsea thought they were level after 16 minutes as Nicolas Jackson raced clear to finish into the roof of the net, but his strike was disallowed for offside after a VAR review, with replays showing he was leaning beyond Matty Cash.

Jackson should then have equalised when found by Cucurella six yards out, but he could only send his header against the foot of the post and wide.

Villa then doubled their lead against the run of play shortly before half-time, with Djordje Petrovic powerless as Rogers squeezed his shot through Trevoh Chalobah's legs and in.

A hamstring injury saw Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez withdrawn at half-time, and his replacement Robin Olsen was beaten after 62 minutes, Madueke stroking home after Gallagher forced a high turnover. 

Olsen stuck out an arm to deny Madueke a second with 71 minutes gone, but he had no chance as the Blues levelled with nine minutes to play, Gallagher rifling a left-footed finish into the top-left corner.

Chelsea thought they had won it when Disasi headed home five minutes into stoppage time, but referee Pawson disallowed the goal following a VAR review, with Badiashile adjudged to have fouled Diego Carlos in the build-up.

Villa throw it away

Villa could hardly have wished for a stronger position at half-time. Despite Chelsea carving out several good openings, they found themselves 2-0 up and primed to exploit their opponents further through the pace of Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey.

Chelsea had lost 16 of their previous 18 Premier League games when trailing at half-time (one win, one draw), losing their last eight when two or more goals behind at the break.

However, Emery's men simply didn't get going after the restart, and only a late VAR review saved them from a crushing defeat, with Disasi's potential winner chalked off for a foul by fellow defender Badiashile.

Gallagher leads from the front

Gallagher has polarised opinion at times this season, but Chelsea's stand-in skipper produced a talismanic display just when his team needed him most at Villa Park.

The England international is known for his tenacious work out of possession, and he forced a turnover on the corner of the Villa box in the build-up to Madueke's goal.

Gallagher's own strike, which flew into the top corner to stun the home faithful, took him to double figures for Premier League goal involvements for the season (four goals, six assists). He has only achieved that feat in one other campaign in the competition, scoring eight goals and adding three assists on loan at Crystal Palace in 2021-22.

Four of his seven Premier League goals for Chelsea, meanwhile, have now come from outside the area.

Unai Emery says Aston Villa have to work on their mentality after their Champions League qualification hopes took a huge hit in a 3-3 draw with Brentford.

Villa looked to be consolidating fourth position after goals either side of half-time from Ollie Watkins and Morgan Rogers put them in the ascendency.

But they hit the self-destruct button as three goals in nine minutes from Mathias Jorgensen, Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa saw Brentford turn the game on its head.

The hosts had to rally and a Watkins header rescued a point, but the result handed the impetus to Tottenham in the race for guaranteed Champions League qualification.

Watkins was scathing in his assessment after the game, saying Villa lack the “maturity or game intelligence”, and Emery responded.

“We are disappointed and frustrated because we played very well until the minute 60 and after the minute 75, but in 10 minutes in the Premier League we know we can lose everything we have built before,” Emery said.

“The mentality of the team we always have to work and increasing and be demanding, this is a process.

“Today, everybody is a little bit upset and not understanding clearly what happened.

“I will work with the players and tell them how we can continue in our way, being successful like we are, with 60 points after 32 games is more than our expectation before.

“But we have to be demanding to compete but we can draw a match like today when we lose a little bit of focus in the moment.

“The first 60 minutes I played like I really want, like we have played here before when we won a lot of matches in a row, it was completely difficult to understand how we played afterwards. It is my responsibility and I will work on it.”

Brentford boss Thomas Frank has no issues with Ivan Toney and Nathan Collins’ heated exchange at the end of the match.

The team-mates were angrily disagreeing with each other after the full-time whistle, with Toney seemingly unhappy about Collins not passing to him.

Asked what it was about, Frank said: “I don’t know, I was over there speaking to them but I don’t know exactly what it was and I don’t really care.

“I know it is two very competitive people that want to win a match. I don’t know exactly what it was the situation, but we have a very good culture and a united team and it is OK to have a little bit of friction.

“They will sort it out no problem.”

Their disagreement could have been born out of Brentford’s winless run extending to nine games as they failed to see it out after taking the lead.

“Fantastic game and brand for the Premier League, this is showing why it is the best league in the world and the most entertaining,” the Dane added.

“Probably Unai and I would say we both should have won the game, both can argue well for why we should, OK in the end it’s a fair result.

“I think it is a fine point but it is two points dropped when we are leading in that situation and we haven’t been able to get over the line. But the performance is another step in the right direction.”

Aston Villa’s Premier League top-four hopes suffered a big blow as they threw away a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 against Brentford, who scored three times in nine minutes.

Villa looked to be consolidating fourth position after goals either side of half-time from Ollie Watkins and Morgan Rogers put them in the ascendency.

But they hit the self-destruct button as quickfire strikes from Mathias Jorgensen, Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa saw Brentford turn the game on its head.

The hosts had to rally and a Watkins header rescued a point, but the result handed the impetus to Tottenham in the race for guaranteed Champions League qualification.

Spurs, who are three points behind in fifth, play relegation threatened Nottingham Forest on Sunday and also have a game in hand.

The draw means Brentford’s winless run extends to nine games and they will see this as a chance missed.

After an even opening, Villa almost took the lead midway through the first half when Lucas Digne’s inswinging corner was clawed away by Bees goalkeeper Mark Flekken.

An opener came in the 39th minute as Watkins grabbed his 23rd goal in all competitions and 17th in the league.

John McGinn, back after a three-game ban, floated in an inviting cross which Watkins headed down towards goal.

Flekken scrambled to scoop the ball away and Leon Bailey followed it in, but the goal decision system showed Watkins’ header had crossed the line.

Villa doubled their lead 32 seconds after the restart as Rogers opened his Villa account in style.

The January signing from Middlesbrough picked up a Youri Tielemans pass, weaved into the area and found the bottom corner.

The game appeared done but Brentford stunned their hosts with three goals in nine minutes.

They got themselves back in it just before the hour, but goalscorer Jorgensen did not know too much about it.

The defender completely missed his kick from Mikkel Damsgaard’s ball across goal, but it hit his standing foot and wrong-footed Emi Martinez.

The tension inside the stadium was palpable and 121 seconds later the Bees were level as Mbeumo volleyed home Sergio Reguilon’s cross from the left.

The remarkable turnaround was complete in the 68th minute as Reguilon was again the provider, squaring for Wissa to convert the easiest of tap-ins.

Suddenly Villa were mounting a rescue act in a game they thought they had already won.

And it took them 12 minutes to get back level as Watkins nodded home Bailey’s deflected cross after Flekken had come to claim it but missed it.

They threw everything forward in search of a winner, with Digne’s acrobatic effort going over, but they could not find a winner and dropped two points.

Crystal Palace swooped for midfielder Adam Wharton in a reported £22million switch from Blackburn to make the biggest Premier League move of transfer deadline day.

The Eagles – fighting to stay clear of being dragged into a relegation battle – are said to have paid a fee of £18million, which could potentially see a further £4m in add-ons for the talented 19-year-old.

Wharton, who has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract, feels Crystal Palace is the right place for him to further his ambitions.

“The way they have brought players from the Championship and developed them into world-class players in the Premier League is something that stood out to me,” Wharton said on the club’s website. “It is a big reason why I wanted to come here.”

Burnley, who sit second bottom of the table, have completed a loan deal for Montpellier defender Maxime Esteve until the end of the season.

The 21-year-old centre-back watched Burnley’s 3-1 defeat at Manchester City on Wednesday night before completing the formalities of his deal ahead of Thursday night’s deadline.


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“I am really happy and ever since I first heard about the move I wanted to move here,” Esteve said.


“I have followed the Premier League since being a young child and had only pictured myself ever being here, so I am really excited,” he said.

Plenty more deals look set to be done ahead of the 11pm cut-off, with Fulham chasing a loan deal for Chelsea striker Armando Broja.

PA understands West Ham’s Pablo Fornals has permission to discuss a £7million move to Real Betis, while Said Benrahma is in France undergoing a medical at Lyon.

Brentford head coach Thomas Frank, though, says that Ivan Toney will not be leaving the club.

England striker Toney has been linked with Premier League rivals such as Arsenal and Chelsea in the January window.

The 27-year-old has scored 34 goals in 68 top-flight games for the Bees and Frank insists Toney will stay put after a month of speculation.

“This will be breaking news, OK – but Ivan will stay,” Frank said at his press conference previewing Monday’s clash with Manchester City.

Earlier, top-flight clubs Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Newcastle all completed deals to strengthen their squads.

Forest signed 18-year-old striker Rodrigo Ribeiro on loan from Sporting Lisbon until the end of the season, Morgan Rogers swapped Middlesbrough for Villa Park in a reported £8million switch and Newcastle brought in teenage midfielder Alfie Harrison from Manchester City.

Brighton midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud has joined Stuttgart on loan.

Ribeiro’s move to Forest could become permanent, and he told the club’s YouTube channel: “I promise to work every day and to keep going with the work and help the team.”

In the Sky Bet Championship, promotion-chasing Ipswich signed Wales forward Kieffer Moore on loan from Bournemouth.

West Brom brought Celtic winger Mikey Johnston to The Hawthorns, versatile Manchester City player Josh Wilson-Esbrand signed for Cardiff until the end of the season and Liverpool defender Billy Koumetio linked up with Blackburn on loan.

Earlier, midfielder Alex Pritchard completed a move from Sunderland to Birmingham.

The 30-year-old has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract to reunite with former Black Cats boss Tony Mowbray.

Sunderland reacted quickly to fill the gap in their squad, signing winger Romaine Mundle from Standard Liege.

Hull have signed Turkey midfielder Abdulkadir Omur from Trabzonspor, while Swansea brought in young forward Charles Sagoe Jr on a six-month loan from Arsenal.

It has been an unusually quiet transfer deadline day as some Premier League club’s look to get new signings in ahead of the 11pm deadline.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the best deals done so far.

Rogers makes Villa switch

Aston Villa have completed a move for Morgan Rogers from Middlesbrough, with the forward having impressed in the Sky Bet Championship so far this season with seven goals and eight assists to his name.

The 21-year-old arrived at Villa Park after Middlesbrough finally succumbed to an offer in the region of £16million.

Rogers will now line up in the Premier League to help Unai Emery’s side pursue a spot in Europe come the end of the season.

Rodrigo Ribeiro becomes Nuno’s first

Nottingham Forest captured 18-year-old forward Ruben Ribeiro from Sporting Lisbon as Nuno Espirito Santo made his first signing as Forest boss.

The 18-year-old striker has joined the club on loan for the remainder of the season, in a deal which could be made permanent.

Ribeiro has turned out seven times for Sporting so far this campaign and has even played in the Champions League, making his debut against Manchester City in March 2022.

Gio Reyna added to Forest ranks

Nottingham Forest have once again been one of the busier clubs on deadline day and completed a second loan signing of USA midfielder Reyna from Borussia Dortmund.

Reyna has made 121 appearances for Dortmund since 2019 and has already earned 24 caps in international colours.

Reyna will bring a wealth of experience from the Bundesliga and Champions League as Forest aim to bolster their bid to survive in the Premier League.

Dahoud goes back to Germany

Midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud joined Brighton from Borussia Dortmund in the summer but will now head back to Germany on loan at Stuttgart until the end of the season.

The 28-year-old German has made 14 appearances in all competitions but has fallen out of favour since receiving a red card against Sheffield United in November and has not featured for the Seagulls since a 1-1 draw with Burnley at the start of December.

Technical director David Weir said: “This is a good move for Mahmoud. It will give him an opportunity to play regularly for a side doing very well towards the top of the Bundesliga. We wish him well for the rest of the campaign.”

Mowbray secures Pritchard

In a sign of how quiet things have been, a Championship deal cracks the top five.

Midfielder Alex Pritchard becomes Birmingham’s third signing of the January transfer window.

The 30-year-old will link up with former boss Tony Mowbray on a two-and-a-half year contract

1105 – DONE DEAL – It’s official, Morgan Rogers has joined Aston Villa from Middlesbrough.

The 21-year-old moves to the Premier League side for an undisclosed fee.

1100 – DONE DEAL – Shortly after announcing Pritchard’s departure, Sunderland have brought a player through the door.

Winger Romaine Mundle arrives from Belgian side Standard Liege on a four-and-a-half-year deal.

1015 –  In Scotland, there could be big news at Rangers amid reports from Italy that Hellas Verona are set to launch a bid to sign striker Cyriel Dessers.

1000 – DONE DEAL – Birmingham have swooped for Alex Pritchard, signing the Sunderland midfielder for an undisclosed fee.

The 30-year-old has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract to reunite with former Black Cats boss Tony Mowbray.

“I am happy,” Pritchard told BluesTV.

0945 – Motherwell have not ruled out a last-minute return for Kevin van Veen during this transfer window, according to assistant manager Stephen Frail.

Groningen are open to offers for the out-of-favour striker and a loan could be their only option as the transfer deadline approaches.

0925 – DONE DEAL –
 Wrexham have made another signing.

This time they have boosted their attacking options by bringing in Jack Marriott from Fleetwood for an undisclosed fee.

The Hollywood-owned club, who sit second in the League Two table, are having a busy deadline day.

0915 – DONE DEAL – In League Two, high-flying Wrexham have signed Luke Bolton from Salford, with the defender joining for an undisclosed fee.

0900 – DONE DEAL – There has been a flurry of early activity.

Nottingham Forest have bolstered their squad, bringing in striker Rodrigo Ribeiro on loan from Sporting Lisbon, while Brighton’s Mahmoud Dahoud has joined Stuttgart on loan for the rest of the season.

Ribeiro, 18, has joined the Premier League strugglers on loan until the end of the season in a deal which could become permanent.

0845 – There could be some departures at West Ham today, with Said Benrahma and Pablo Fornals linked with moves.

Lyon are said to be keen on Algeria forward Benrahma, while Real Betis have been linked with Fornals.

0830 – Some deals were done the evening before transfer deadline day, with Nottingham Forest bringing in United States midfielder Giovanni Reyna on loan from Borussia Dortmund until the end of the season.

Elsewhere, Facundo Pellistri made a loan switch away from Manchester United on Wednesday night, joining Granada for the rest of the season.

0815 – Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic seem likely to add to their squad on deadline day.

They are closing in on the loan signing of Norwich striker Adam Idah, with the 22-year-old Republic of Ireland international reportedly arriving in Glasgow on Wednesday to seal his move to the Hoops until the end of the season.

0750 – Crystal Palace also look set to sign a player from the Championship today, with Blackburn midfielder Adam Wharton said to be close to swapping Lancashire for South London.

Palace have reportedly agreed a fee of £18million plus £4m for Wharton, who could sign a five-and-a-half-year deal at Selhurst Park.

0730 –
Aston Villa are expected to strengthen their squad before the window slams shut.

Middlesbrough winger Morgan Rogers is the man they want, and the deal could be worth £16million.


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0715 –
Welcome to the PA news agency’s live transfer deadline day blog.


The winter transfer window closes this evening at 11pm for Premier League and EFL clubs while it is 11.30pm for teams in Scotland.

There are plenty of deals in the pipeline, with Fulham linked with a deadline-day loan move for Chelsea striker Armando Broja and Rangers expected to complete the signing of Colombian winger Oscar Cortes on loan from Lens.

Chelsea’s potential outgoings could dominate transfer deadline day with speculation over Conor Gallagher and Armando Broja’s futures at the club yet to subside.

West London rivals Fulham have been linked to Broja over the last few days of the January window, while England midfielder Gallagher has been linked with a move to Tottenham throughout the month.

Spurs have been one of the busier clubs in a seemingly quieter January transfer window so far, with Radu Dragusin and Timo Werner arriving in north London, but head coach Ange Postecoglou suggested on Tuesday it would be “unlikely” to see any more signings

Financial services firm Deloitte suggested that clubs’ desire to avoid tough sanctions for financial rule breaches could be a factor in a general drop in Premier League transfer spending this month, but did not rule out a “late flurry” of activity before the 11pm deadline on Thursday.

Aston Villa have been active in the final stages of the window, with winger Morgan Rogers expected to join from Middlesbrough in a deal worth £16million.

Forward Jhon Duran has been linked with Chelsea, while Unai Emery is also keen to keep hold of Jacob Ramsey, who has been linked with Tottenham and Bayern Munich.

Speaking about the midfielder at a press conference on Monday, Emery said: “Jacob Ramsey is a very important player. He grew up in the academy and his progression is getting better.

“His level is increasing a lot and I want to keep him here with us. Of course, there are movements (speculation) around him.

“Maybe there are teams involved in the possibility to sign him because he has a big, big potential at Villa and in England. I want to keep him here, 100 per cent.”

Newcastle were another club linked with Ramsey, but Eddie Howe insisted on Monday that the Magpies had made no approach for the 22-year-old.

Howe added he is determined to keep his squad “intact” amid speculation over the futures of Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron throughout the window.

After securing Kalvin Phillips on loan, Portuguese winger Jota is reportedly a target for West Ham to replace Algeria winger Said Benrahma, who is likely to leave before deadline day.

Pablo Fornals could be another player to leave the Hammers and he is reportedly close to sealing a move to Real Betis.

Brighton have been linked with a move for Leicester midfielder Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, but Seagulls boss Roberto De Zerbi remains tight-lipped about the speculation.

“I don’t know anything about him (personally); I know him as a player,” he said.

“He has great quality but it’s not my business speaking about other players, especially because (Foxes boss) Enzo Maresca is my friend and I want to be correct with him.”

There could be activity towards the bottom end of the Premier League table as Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder admitted the club will be working “frantically” to improve their squad before Thursday, while Nottingham Forest manager Nuno Espirito Santo is also hoping to bring in reinforcements.

Chelsea put defeat in their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Middlesbrough behind them to book a first Wembley appearance since 2022 with a ruthless 6-1 win at Stamford Bridge.

Four first-half goals for Mauricio Pochettino’s side effectively ended the tie as a contest as a Jonny Howson own goal and strikes from Enzo Fernandez, Axel Disasi and Cole Palmer showed a clinical side to Chelsea rarely seen this season.

Noni Madueke and a second from Palmer wrapped up an emphatic comeback late on before Morgan Rogers gave travelling Boro fans a reason to cheer two minutes from time.

By then, the hosts had long since ensured their place in the final, a 6-2 aggregate win ensuring they will face either Liverpool or west London rivals Fulham on February 25.

Chelsea dominated possession early but took until 11 minutes to fashion their first chance, Ben Chilwell appearing unmarked inside the box and heading fractionally wide from Thiago Silva’s drilled ball over the top.

And it was the returning Chilwell whose vision and delivery fashioned his side’s opener. The ball through the middle for Raheem Sterling cut Boro’s defence in two and Sterling, foregoing the chance to shoot, looked up and fed Armando Broja – but before he could knock it past Tom Glover, Boro captain Howson inadvertently diverted it beyond his own goalkeeper.

Rogers fired towards Djordje Petrovic’s bottom corner from a clever corner routine as the visitors sought an instant response, the keeper saving at the foot of the post.

But the game was looking increasingly like Chelsea’s to lose, and just before the half-hour mark they led for the first time in the tie.

Sterling manoeuvred out of a cul-de-sac via a delightful back-heel to feed Disasi, who sprinted up on the overlap. Charging into the box, he cut the ball back for Broja whose scuffed shot diverted into the path of Fernandez for the simplest finish guided into the corner.

Sterling and Disasi combined again minutes later to make it 3-0, the England forward sliding in his team-mate to sweep home first time as the visiting supporters behind the goal saw dreams of reaching Wembley evaporate.

Boro bravely sought to play their way out from the back despite the torrent of Chelsea goals that threatened to wash them away but their hero from the first leg, Hayden Hackney, had a hand in gifting Chelsea their fourth, leaving Dan Barlaser exposed with a catastrophic pass that let in Palmer to finish inside the post with typical cool.

The hosts were looking to reach a first major final since Todd Boehly’s Clearlake Capital consortium completed its buyout of the club in May 2022 and with the job all but done by the break, a sense of ease rarely observed this season passed around Stamford Bridge.

Carrick’s side still looked to get on the ball and play in the second half, an approach that did them credit if at times it seemed like inviting a fifth Chelsea goal.

It arrived with 15 minutes to play. Substitute Conor Gallagher ran the ball to the byline and cut back for Palmer to open up his body and score beyond the exposed Glover.

Madueke, sent on at half-time, danced through and made it six via a deflection off Ray van den Berg minutes later.

Rogers’ goal at the death brought a roar of approval from the visiting fans. In truth, their side had never looked like earning the win they craved on their long journey south.

Boss Michael Carrick has urged Middlesbrough to seize their chance after reaching the Carabao Cup semi-finals.

Jonny Howson, Morgan Rogers and Matt Crooks eased them into the last four with a 3-0 win at Port Vale.

The Championship side reached a major domestic semi-final for the first time in 17 years, since losing to West Ham in the last four of the FA Cup in 2006.

An injury-hit Boro made light work of their League One hosts to avoid an upset and are the only EFL team left in the last four.

Carrick said: “Sometimes in your career there are times and you have to make the most of the opportunity when it comes your way.

“When the door opens you have to run through it and the boys certainly sprinted through it.

“We’re not stupid. We know whoever’s left in the draw probably wants to play us and see it as a chance to get to Wembley.

“It’s a hell of an opportunity. It’s about us and what we can achieve. You’re in a semi-final and it’s motivation and inspiration itself.

“It was a fantastic attitude and mentality. We’re decimated in terms of numbers in the squad but it’s part of the journey and we’re enjoying it.

“We’re in the semi-final and who would have thought it, it’s a great thing to look forward to. Who knows what will happen next, we’ll see who we get.”

Howson opened the scoring after 11 minutes when his 25-yard strike clipped Jason Lowe and looped in over Connor Ripley.

Vale, who demonstrated plenty of endeavour, tried to recover but fell further behind after 23 minutes when Sam Silvera crossed for Rogers to find the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

Gavin Massey lifted Vale’s best chance over from close range and Crooks wrapped up the victory eight minutes into the second half, bullying his way through and finding the bottom corner.

The hosts lost Oliver Arblaster to a serious leg injury and boss Andy Crosby admitted they were second best.

He said: “We are trying to play in a way in our own league, with control and counter pressing but as soon as there was space on the transition you could see the difference between the players.

“They executed the finishes well, maybe got a bit of luck with the first which took a deflection over Connor but they deserved to win the game and hopefully they can progress in the semi-final.

“Ollie has a really bad gash around his knee, it’s gone right through to the bone and he’s gone to hospital. He has been so good for us and he’s our number one concern.”

Middlesbrough cruised into the Carabao Cup semi-finals after breezing past Port Vale 3-0.

Jonny Howson, Morgan Rogers and Matt Crooks fired the 2004 winners in to the last four with a comfortable win at Vale Park.

Boro had not made a major domestic semi-final since losing to West Ham in the last four of the FA Cup in 2006.

Vale’s big night – their first League Cup quarter-final – was ruined by the incisive and efficient visitors within 23 minutes.

Gavin Massey missed the hosts’ best chance but Boro boss Michael Carrick, a two-time winner with Manchester United, ultimately navigated a tricky tie with ease given their injury problems.

So depleted were the visitors that Carrick named four substitutes without a senior appearance, including 17-year-old Law McCabe, but it was the experienced Howson who fired them ahead after 11 minutes.

Boro had threatened through the middle and the midfielder was able to easily find space. With defenders giving him time, the 35-year-old needed no second invitation and his 25-yard shot clipped Jason Lowe to loop over Connor Ripley.

Missing 10 players due to injury and resting Rav van den Berg, with an eye on their bid to stay in touch with the Championship’s play-off pack, the visitors had a platform.

Ethan Chislett curled an early free kick over and plucky Vale – 15th in League One – had nothing to lose, only for a second Boro goal after 23 minutes to seal the game.

Again, it was a simple build up with Sam Silvera winning the ball on the right and he kept his composure to pick out Rogers on the edge of the box.

The former Manchester City forward was left completely unmarked to stroke a fine low finish into the corner – his fourth goal of the competition.

Yet, far from shrinking, Vale kept going and should have pulled a goal back three minutes later only for a stretching Massey to lift over from close range.

Boro should have been out of sight just before the break when Crooks shot over but it was just a warning as the midfielder struck eight minutes into the second half when he barged his way through and drilled into the bottom corner.

Worse was to follow for the hosts when Oliver Arblaster was carried off with a serious leg injury just before the hour.

It sucked the life out Vale and, from then, Boro were happy to see the game out and Ripley denied Calum Kavanagh a debut goal when the visitors threatened a late fourth.

Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick praised his side as they overcame spirited Exeter to win a cracking Carabao Cup fourth round clash at St James Park 3-2.

League One Exeter took a shock lead with a stunning Ryan Trevitt strike but two goals in quick succession from Morgan Rogers and Sammy Silvera turned the tie on its head at the start of the second half.

Trevitt levelled things up with another brilliant long-range strike but went from hero to villain as his needless shirt pull on Rogers inside the penalty box allowed Emmanuel Latte Lath to settle a pulsating clash in the Championship side’s favour from the spot eight minutes from time.

“It’s kind of what you come to expect with games like this, there was obviously a lot to play for and a lot at stake,” Carrick said.

“I thought we started all right and we had a lot of the ball. We played OK without really looking dangerous, but we had enough of the ball and then they scored an unbelievable strike from nowhere and it gave them a lot in the game then to hold on to.

“In the second half I thought we took it up a level, the spaces started to open up, which we exploited, and we scored some really good goals, so I am delighted to be through.

“I am delighted for the travelling supporters – 1,000 came down on a Tuesday night, which is absolutely amazing – and I am delighted the goals were in front of them, so they could celebrate.

“We made a few changes to the team and it is not always easy to click straight away, so we were calm at half-time and just said to keep believing, keep penetrating the spaces and playing positively and they did that.

“There were some terrific goals as well, we probably could have had more but it was a good tie for the neutral with plenty of good goals as well.”

Exeter were aiming to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history and manager Gary Caldwell cut a proud but frustrated figure at full-time.

“It was a brilliant performance, loads of effort and endeavour,” he said. “We got asked serious questions against a top side, a potential Premier League side, next season.

“It wasn’t for the want of trying we went out of the Cup. All credit to the players, they gave everything and we got beaten by the better team tonight. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up to that and we wish them well in the next round.

“It was a brilliant atmosphere in the stadium right from kick-off, the players took that on board and we had a clear game plan.

“It was a poor start to the second half but a great reaction and Trevitt scored an amazing goal and, at that point, it was game on and it was a proper cup tie. But a soft penalty decides it.”

Substitutes Riley McGree and Morgan Rogers scored stoppage-time goals to steer Middlesbrough into round three of the Carabao Cup with a 3-1 comeback win at League One Bolton.

Australian ace McGree had only been on the pitch five minutes before rounding off sustained Boro pressure with a superb low left-foot finish.

Rogers, a summer signing from Manchester City, completed a deserved win for Michael Carrick’s Championship side with his first goal for the club.

The game started promisingly for Bolton in this repeat of the 2004 League Cup final.

Fresh from signing a new contract extension, Northern Ireland international Dion Charles gave Wanderers a 23rd-minute lead after Tom Glover could only parry Josh Sheehan’s shot.

The home lead only lasted 10 minutes as Matt Crooks lofted Paddy McNair’s through ball past Joel Coleman for his first goal since last April.

Coleman, injured at the end of the first half, didn’t reappear for the second which produced more bookings (5) than chances until the closing stages.

Sub goalie Nathan Baxter saved from Samuel Silvera and then brilliantly tipped McNair’s piledriver onto the bar.

But Boro’s pressure finally told with the late double from McGree and Rogers, giving the visitors only a second win of the campaign.

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