Cup Clash Is Crucial

Martin O'Neill has heralded his current Villa squad as the best he has ever worked with, so could the team of 2009 finally end a 13-year silverware drought?

The last Claret and Blue triumph, as many of you will know, came way back in 1996 as Villa demolished Leeds at Wembley in the Coca-Cola Cup final.

Now that same trophy, albeit under a different moniker, is up for grabs once more and after years of being on the wrong end of giant-killings and just general disappointments, Villa are on the cup trail once again.

It is often said that there is a fine line between winning and losing in football and that cliche will be wheeled out before O'Neill names his team to take on Sunderland in the fourth round tie on Tuesday night.

The Northern Irishman often opts to blend first team regualrs with fringe players in this competition but with a tricky tie in the north-east he could and probably should rethink his strategy.

It is a selection system that has failed to pay dividends in the cup so far and the 2000 or so expectant supporters travelling to the Stadium of Light will be desperate for their side to progress.

The Villa boss has a CV to match his current side's extremely impressive history in the League Cup but he has yet to give the success starved faithful much to shout about.


The Claret and Blue have gone out in the third round in the last two seasons and on both occasions they were devoid of the motivation needed to make a real impression on the competition.

And if O'Neill names a below par side against Steve Bruce's men then he will once again send a message to all concerned that the Carling Cup is not high up on his list of priorities.

That will inevitably transmit to the players and he will have to live with the consequences should it all go horribly wrong once again.

Villa fans have been told to concentrate the league too many times during the last 13 years, with finishing in the top four lauded as the ultimate achievement.

Now it is time to forget about the bread and butter of the league and think more about the icing on the cake, which would be a cup win.

No fan can deny their urge to see their side play at Wembley and many would choose winning the Carling Cup over finishing fourth in the league any day.

The top four are indeed the best four when it comes to the Premiership and while Villa should not stop striving to get the better of them, O'Neill and co should focus on winnable short term tasks, starting with the Sunderland match-up.

By his own admission he has the squad to succeed so now it is time to quell the appetite of the cup hungry Claret and Blue faithful.