By Mark Scully
If Paul Lambert’s side think it will be a stroll in the park at Valley Parade on Tuesday night they might want to have a little word with the stars of Arsenal’s first team that came unstuck last month at the quarter final stage of the competition. Realistically you’d expect the Midlands side to knock us out over two legs and chances are they will do. I’d also expect Chelsea to get past Swansea in the other Semi Final – therefore, a possible place in Europe for Villa.
Would Villa fans take losing the final to Chelsea and finishing fourth from bottom in the Premier League as a successful season? I personally think they will.
Neither side is coming into the tie in any real form. For Bradford it is one win in six in all competitions since beating Arsenal in the last round and Saturdays 2-0 defeat at Barnet meant The Bantams dropped out of the play-off places for the first time in a long while. Some fans have blamed the blip (let’s hope that’s all it is!) on the cup runs we have had and all the extra games that we have had to partake in, and therefore tiredness is playing a big part. Throw in the sickness bug which has been around the camp for the last three weeks or so, and fatigue will have played a part.
As for Villa, since demolishing Norwich City 4-1 at Carrow Road in the last round they have had some horrendous results. Immediately after the thrashing of the Canaries, they went to Anfield and won 3-1 which without a doubt is the highlight of Villa’s season to date. However, following the win on Merseyside they have produced some shocking results an 8-0 – yes 8-0 – thumping at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, followed by a 4-0 loss at home to Tottenham, followed up again by a 3-0 home defeat to Wigan Athletic; hardly a vintage Christmas period and one which Villa fans will soon want to erase from the memory. A 2-2 draw away at Swansea on New Year’s Day was a good result and it halted the bad heavy defeats of the previous three games, but if it wasn’t for Danny Graham’s last minute strike it could of been a perfect start to 2013 for Villa’s young side.
As Bradford were crumbing to yet another lacklustre performance in the defeat to Barnet on Saturday, Aston Villa were taking on Ipswich at Villa Park in the third round of the FA Cup. Once again the frail defence which has been all too evident this season for Villa, was highlighted when Michael Chopra scored and put the visitors ahead (although how it wasn’t actually given as a Eric Lichaj own goal is beyond me). Dangerously for Bradford, ahead of the game on Tuesday night, saw the return of Darren Bent to the Aston Villa starting line up against Ipswich.
Bent duly scored a superb goal early in the second half, he’s been a prolific striker in the Premier League over the last seven years. And should Lambert opt to go with Bent and Benteke at Valley Parade, then whoever is marshalling the Bradford back line with need to be 100% on their game. Either of those players will carry more of a threat in there weaker foot than Gervinho provided in all his time on the pitch in the last round. Villa clinched the win and a place in the 4th Round with a terrific header from Andreas Weimann the young striker has been making a name of himself alongside Benteke in recent weeks, but the return of Bent could been the young striker starts on the bench Tuesday night.
The game against Ipswich gave Paul Lambert the opportunity to look again at some of the fringe players at Villa Park. The likes of Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia both got a run out, whilst already mentioned Darren Bent came back in after injury similar with Gabby Agbonlahor who played the last half hour after coming off the bench.
I’d be amazed if Aston Villa didn’t play their first team on Tuesday and, for that matter, at Villa Park in a couple of week’s time, regardless of the result at Valley Parade in the first leg. If Villa came unstuck and crashed out the competition at the semi final stage to a League Two side, it would surely put Lambert under pressure to be sacked. I actually think they are doing quite well with the players he’s got at his disposal. However, if they don’t strengthen with any real experience in the transfer window then, for the first time since the Premier League was formed, I wouldn’t expect Villa to be partaking in the 2013/14 Premier League season.
You look at the Villa side and, with the exceptions of the likes of Bent, Benteke, N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor, there aren’t any real stars that – as a Bradford player, coach or fan – you would be seriously worried about. Defensively the goal keeper Brad Guzan is okay, and has been largely over worked in numerous games this season due to a defence which – when Richard Dunne and Ron Vlaar aren’t available – is a very young in-experienced back four. Players such as Joe Bennett were playing left back for Middlesbrough in the Championship last season, and Matthew Lowton right back at Sheffield United in League One. If Wells and Hanson produce what we know they both can do – and if they can do what they did to Mertesacker and Vermaelen in the last round – then I’m confident that Bradford as a attacking force will do well against the Villa back line.
It’s defensively where I think we’ve got problems against what potentially could be a strong Villa attacking line up. Having said that, in the centre of midfield I’d expect Ashley Westwood – last season of League Two side Crewe, and a very good player – potentially to line up alongside former Bradford youth and ex Leeds player Fabian Delph. If Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones can get in and amongst the two young Villa midfielders then, once again, I believe we can come out on top in the midfield battle.
The Villa bench more often than not this season has again lacked experience, the only meaningful appearance makers are Shay Given and Stephen Ireland. Aside from that the likes of Barry Bannan; Eric Lichaj, Brett Holman and Jordan Bowery have made very few premier league appearance .That’s not to say they aren’t good players or will turn out to be good players in the future, but from a Bradford point of view none of them would make me worry. (Here’s where they demolish us 5-0 on Tuesday and make my comments look silly, but I generally believe Bradford have a chance.)
Most pundits believe Aston Villa have a straight forward passage into the final and it’s a perfect draw from a Villa point of view, but then again they are probably the same pundits that said the same for Wigan and Arsenal in the previous two rounds.
Whilst Villa probably thought they had the perfect draw, I also believe Bradford got the perfect draw. Okay, the glitz and glamour of two legs against Chelsea and the money that goes with that would have been amazing, but in terms of having a chance of reaching the final – zero.
Swansea isn’t a glamour fixture they are doing extremely well at present but are they really a bigger club than Bradford? It wasn’t that long ago at The Vetch where they needed a last day win to stay in the Football League – just shows how money and a new stadium can boost a clubs fortunes. I also wouldn’t have given us a chance against The Swans; they would of passed us to death and we’d of been chasing shadows for the majority of the match.
This may well not be a Villa side currently that their supporters are particularly proud of, but a win against Bradford in the semi final of the Capital One Cup will go a long way to help change that. Personally, I hope they come unstuck and I believe at Valley Parade that might well happen.
Villa need a final to help try and lift the doom and gloom that seemingly consistently lingers over Villa Park. If Villa win the final it puts them back on the map and will help attract players to the club of similar calibre that they have lost in recent seasons, such as Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, James Milner and Gareth Barry.