Attention turns to the Carling Cup tonight as Bolton Wanderers make the trip from the north-west to Villa Park.
Although our performance against Newcastle United last Saturday was far from pretty, we still find ourselves unbeaten and sitting comfortably in the top-six. Had that been forecasted to the Villans far and wide prior to a ball being kicked in August, I am sure you would have snatched at the offer.
Queens Park Rangers lie in wait for our next league game but it is the League Cup that takes centre stage tonight. Visitors Bolton have endured a rather sticky start to their domestic campaign, winning just the one game thus far – their opener against QPR – and find themselves sitting in the bottom three.
The Trotters overcame Macclesfield Town in the last round where as we beat the plucky League 2 minnows Hereford United 2-0 at Villa Park.
Jermaine Jenas is in line for his Villa debut and the likelihood of a number of big name absentees looks inevitable. Darren Bent looks certain to miss out due to an injured groin as too Emile Heskey who is sidelined for another two weeks with a tight hamstring.
Hard to call who is in line for a start tonight but gaffer Alex McLeish will be under no illusions that an understrength side will jeopardise our progress. Owen Coyle`s team will be looking to get back on track and what better way to do so than coming to Birmingham and sealing their way into the next round.
Alex McLeish has this week been singing the praises of defensive duo James Collins and Richard Dunne who have been in sterling form thus far:
‘These are great players here. People were saying I was probably going to go back to Birmingham and sign Scott Dann and Roger Johnson but to be honest, central defence was one position that wasn’t a priority. We also have young Ciaran Clark here to back them (Collins and Dunne) up and he looks like he’s going to be a top player also.`
‘I have seen a lot of them. I have seen Richard over the years and Peter Grant (assistant manager) knows James really well (from their days at West Ham).
‘We felt that, while we were looking to strengthen the squad, it certainly wasn’t going to be that position and the pair have been excellent.`
Big Eck has also leapt to the defence of summer signing Charles N`Zogbia who has yet to reach the sizzling form that made him a household name at Wigan Athletic:
‘He’s just got to find his top level in the last third.`
‘He’s getting into good positions. It’s just that final ball and he’ll be off and running. We’ve seen what he can do so we know he’s got top quality. He’s a proud guy as well and will keep working hard to get to his best.`
Having led our arch nemesis across the city to League Cup glory last season, McLeish is determined to replicate that feat and keep his hands firmly wrapped on the silverware.
He simply stated:
‘I don`t want to let the Carling Cup go. It`d be nice to do it two years in a row.`
Aston Villa Team News:
Darren Bent is likely to sit this one out as too Heskey. Stephen Warnock and Stiliyan Petrov both picked up knocks on Saturday and they are likely to be rested for Sunday`s trip to Loftus Road.
Still remains to be seen if Ciaran Clarke will figure after being left out of the squad on Saturday due to injury.
Player to watch: Stephen Ireland
Although he has been unable to force his way into first-team matters in the league, the Irishman has shown glimpses of his talent when coming on as a substitute.
We all know he has the ability to be a real asset for the football club but he needs games to find his feet and become an integral cog in McLeish`s plans.
He is more or less certain to figure tonight as the creative spark in midfield. It is a fantastic opportunity to show what he can do against Premier League opposition.
Bolton Wanderers Team News:
American starlet Stuart Holden is set to make his first start for the club in six months after rupturing knee ligaments back in March.
Good news for Villa is that Ivan Klasnic is suspended after being sent off in the defeat to Norwich City at the weekend.
Player to watch: Martin Petrov
The Bulgarian will pose as a major threat down the wing and the Villa full-backs will need to be on their toes in restricting his jinking runs.
He is technically superb and can forge defence splitting passes to get his peers in behind the defence. The problem however is the lack of firepower up top for The Trotters and this will hinder their threat in the final third.
Match Facts & Stats
Bolton beat us in the semi-finals of this competition over two-legs backs in 2004 with Jay-Jay Okocha masterminding a 5-2 win in the first.
Villa never make these League Cup ties easy so I am expecting a fairly tight affair. Bolton will arrive with a purpose but their lack of firepower in the final third may prove to be their downfall.
I think we will have enough – as well as home advantage – to see this one out. 2-0 Villa.
A visit to the capital on Sunday against newly promoted QPR.