By Mahesh Johal
On Tuesday night I embark on my first trip to Villa Park knowing that my club are 90 minutes from a Wembley cup final. Donning my beloved claret and amber scarf and shirt, I will also be wearing the blue, red and yellow of my university. My trip to Birmingham is the third time I have returned to the city that I graduated from.
During my time at the University of Birmingham, I never went to watch the Villa, the Blues or the Albion. Instead my friends and I preferred watching Kidderminster Harriers at the Aggborough Stadium. A History student, I was fortunate enough to be in the same class as a gentleman called George. A Birmingham lad, it soon became apparent that George was a staunch supporter of ‘The Villa’. During our Russian Revolution class, we would spend many hours discussing the performances of our respected teams.
I had a chat with George on Friday to get a Villa perspective of the semi final.
Thoughts on the first leg?
Watching on Sky TV from his living room, George was not surprised to lose to City. A Villa season ticket holder, he talked about the lack of confidence in the team. This was a repeating theme throughout the conversation. Whilst many Villa fans expected a victory, he stated that he would have been happy to come away from Valley Parade with a draw. After seeing us turnover Arsenal, he knew this would not be an easy game.
George suggested that the concern for the Villa fans was not the result, but the manner in which it came. Defensively, Villa have been poor all season, but George said that their performance against City’s set pieces were as bad as he had seen. Also the lack of cutting edge in front of goal was a huge worry.
Gracious in defeat, he was full of praise of the City’s organisation and said that we fully deserved the victory. Matt Duke and James Hanson were singled out as two of our key performers.
Premier League survival or cup glory?
A Wembley cup final is dream for all fans. However, I got the feeling that George would give this up for Premiership survival. Villa’s league form has been woeful since their win over Liverpool. The Villains have conceded 20 goals in six league games, and last week, lost to relegation rivals Southampton.
George used the word confidence again when talking about their league run. It seems that Villa are devoid of any. The absence of key players such as Ron Vlaar (who returned to action earlier this evening for Villa), Stiliyan Petrov and Richard Dunne has starved the team of leadership and experience. George described how their young team crumbled against City and Southampton. Christian Benteke has been one of their few shining lights this season, but he suggested that even he has gone off the boil as of late. With their backs against the walls, old heads are needed.
It was George’s opinion that this week could have a huge impact on their season. He was at The Hawthorns this evening cheering on his team against Midland rivals West Brom. Victories in both games would lift the negative mood which currently surrounds Villa Park, losing a 2-0 lead to the Baggies (drawing 2-2) has probably done little to improve the mood.
Thoughts for the second leg?
Tickets appear to be moving steadily for the game, and we both hoped a club like Villa could sell out. However, George revealed that performances of late may put off fans. A clearer picture may occur after the West Brom game.
He felt the fans still backed manager Paul Lambert, but their patience is wearing thin with him, the squad and the chairman. Discontent among the fans was noticeable from George’s seat in the North Stand. He felt that, if City could start well, the crowd would either quieten down or turn on their team.
George believes City have the upper hand coming into the game. Villa’s lack of confidence was yet again highlighted. The punishing defeats they have suffered recently have taken their toll on the players and fans. He also highlighted their defensive frailties and backed Bradford to score. He pointed to Nahki Wells and Hanson being the key. If fit enough for two games, George believes Vlaar’s strength and leadership could be crucial, as he has been missed. He thinks the battle between Vlaar and Hanson could be fascinating.
Villas lack of goals concerned him. Although their ability to create chances against City was one of the few positives from the first leg for George. However, this is a running theme for Villa. They can create but not score. Along with Andreas Weimann, Gabriel Agbonlahor was picked to be the key player for Villa. A local lad, Gabby will always have a place in Villa fans’ hearts. George singled him out as one of the most consistent performers as of late. Also his seniority in the team has seen a new found maturity in the striker/winger. His pace was seen by City in the first leg. George feels this could be a decisive factor in the game.
Who will win the tie?
George sat on the fence and diplomatically said that the team that score first would be in the driving seat to Wembley. He was not confident of Villa scoring more than two goals and stated that they had to score early to give themselves a chance. Ironically, Villa have scored three or more goals in each League Cup game. The exception to the rule being the semi final first leg.
George put emphasis on Bradford at this stage. He said if City played with the same desire as they did at Valley Parade we would find a goal. However, if we sat back, he felt Villa’s pace could cause problems. In the heart of hearts, I think George hopes and expects a win, but he is slightly concerned after their recent performances.
A Bantam’s view…
Unlike the previous rounds, I have not enjoyed the build-up for this. Before we had nothing to lose. Now we have a Wembley final at stake. Going into every previous round, I have just enjoyed basking in the national coverage. I will go to Villa in hope rather than expectation, but will enjoy being in Bradford’s biggest away following since Hull in 1996. For City to get a result, we need every player to better their phenomenal performances of the first leg. Contrary to George’s Villa, my Bantams should be confident. We have disposed this team before. We can do this again!
When I return to Birmingham New Street on Tuesday, memories from my time in Brum will come flooding back. I just hope that, when I leave again at the end of the evening, I will take home with me one more special moment to remember my university city by.