Club Focus – Aston Villa – Villans eye Carling Cup success

An early Gabriel Agbonlahor goal meant that Villa recorded their sixth successive win and in doing so progressed into the fourth round of the Carling Cup. Martin O’Neill fielded a fairly strong side to avoid any League Cup disappointment and for the most part the Villans enjoyed the majority of the possession. In the end, all it took was an excellent piece of partnership between John Carew and Agbonlahor and Villa were able to hold out for a win.

Cardiff did in fact respond well after the early goal and they pushed for an equaliser. However after half-time it was O’Neill’s men who regained control of the game, searching for the second goal to make sure that the game was well and truly won. Carew came close to adding a second after heading just wide whilst James Milner, who scored a blistering penalty on Saturday, failed to convert a chance from the spot during the second half. Villa’s lack of effectiveness in front of goal could have cost them victory if Jay Bothroyd’s injury-time goal was not ruled offside.

Even though the game was not one of much excitement, it did prove to have its controversial moments. Replays of Bothroyd’s injury-time equaliser showed that just before Bothroyd was through on goal the Villa defender, Carlos Cuellar appeared to have handled the ball and the Cardiff City player seemed to be a yard on side. Perhaps the Bluebirds were slightly unlucky that the decision went against them but it was a tight decision for the linesman.

Bar Agbonlahor and his exquisite back-heel, if there was a Villa player that really made an impression today, it was the 25-year-old keeper, Brad Guzan. The understudy to Brad Friedel has already shown his goalkeeping talent during pre-season and his performance against Cardiff City was no different. The American pulled off a string of excellent saves to prevent the Bluebirds from scoring a likely equaliser. With Friedel not getting any younger, Villa have already found the perfect replacement and Guzan is sure to start many more cup games, leaving the Premier League duties to the veteran goalkeeper.

After their early Europa League exit, Villa will be looking to prioritise competitions such as the Carling Cup and the FA Cup in order to add some success to their season. After his fine performance on Wednesday, Brad Guzan stated his ambition to be in more finals with Villa, starting with the Carling Cup: At the end of your career you want to be looking at how many Championships you played in, how many finals you’ve been to and ultimately how much silverware you have.”

With the fourth round draw scheduled for this Saturday, it is safe to say that if O’Neill plays the right team, the Villans do in fact have a realistic chance of winning the Carling Cup. O’Neill’s side could face a lower league side such as Barnsley, Peterborough or Scunthorpe which are games that could provide upsets but games that should be won nonetheless. However, there is the possibility that Villa could face last year’s Premier League top four en route to the final. The stronger teams tend to field much weakened sides in the Carling Cup and if this remains to be the case, O’Neill should use this to his advantage. The main problem comes against teams such as Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City who are all similarly matched teams to Villa and as a result they will be all wanting to gain silverware in the competition. Therefore if these teams are to play each other, determination may prove to be the factor that decides which team is to go through.

The confidence in the Aston Villa dressing room must be sky high at the moment as they continue to record win after win. Martin O’Neill hailed the “brilliant” Agbonlahor on his fourth successive goal and he stated how his striker’s confidence in front of goal has improved massively from last season. The young England international is maturing as a player and as a person and maintaining his current form will show Capello just how much he wants to get on the plane to South Africa with the England squad in 2010. Villa’s next opposition Blackburn Rovers will be looking for three points to lift them out of the relegation zone whilst the Villans will want to be victorious in order to remain as close as possible to the top four teams.

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