With only two wins in their last 25 league games, a victory for Villa is a very rare sight. They have picked up a habit of being unable to close out a victory in those 25 games, as they have been ahead in several without being able to hold on for the win.
It looked to be a similar story in the cup again on Tuesday night as they let a 2-0 lead slip away to League One Swindon as youngster Miles Storey came off the bench to grab a brace, levelling the game at 2-2 only for Christian Benteke to grab his second goal of the night and win the game for the visitors.
Although Benteke scored the winning goals, it was Stephen Ireland who was the key man in the first half in particular, setting up both goals and controlling the midfield alongside defensive partner Karim El Ahmadi. Ireland has been on the fringes at Villa Park ever since his arrival in 2010, when former manager Martin O’Neill brought him in from Manchester City in a deal that saw James Milner move the other way. He was sent on loan to Newcastle following a dispute with Martin O’Neill’s successor Gerard Houllier, who was not keen on the Irishman’s attitude and commitment to the club. It was then a similar story under Alex McLeish last time out, with Ireland not working hard enough for McLeish liking, spending several games on the bench. He did go on however to win the player of the season award for last campaign, but once more has found himself on the bench for several games so far this season under Paul Lambert.
With Villa not having a wealth of options in central midfield, Stephen Ireland is the answer to their creative problems, as he clearly demonstrated in the Capital One cup on Tuesday. Although Swindon are not the same level of competition that Villa will face in the upcoming weeks, being able to see a pass and complete it is a skill that several other Villa midfield candidates seem to lack.Ireland also brings experience to a midfield that is desperately short of such, and with Christian Benteke in fine form at the moment, Stephen Ireland may just be the person to help him continue that form.
It is Sunderland away this weekend for Aston Villa, as former manager Martin O’Neill will be desperate for a victory over his former employers. His Sunderland side has not been on top form either so far, and without Steven Fletcher’s exploits they would almost certainly be in the relegation zone. Villa will be hoping they can grab a much-needed victory on Saturday as they face a tough run of both Manchester clubs and Arsenal in the next three fixtures following on from this weekend. A cup run is a welcome boost, but as neighbours Birmingham City found out last year, it can be an unwelcome distraction for a struggling team.
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