Villa Aim To Avoid Cup Shock

Last updated : 03 January 2009 By Tom Vickers

Question: What do Aston Villa and Sunday's third round FA Cup opponents Gillingham have in common? Answer: They both share the dubious pleasure of boasting Tony Cascarino as a former player.

Other than that despite only being 150 miles or so apart geographically, the two teams are worlds apart in terms or football standing historically.

Gillingham's greatest achievement to date was their spell in England's second tier (otherwise known as the Championship) between 2000 and 2005.

They currently sit tenth in League Two whereas, Aston Villa have won this famous competition on no fewer than seven occasions, won the European Cup in 1982 and currently sit fourth in the billion dollar industry that is the Premiership.

Martin O' Neill has named his strongest available squad for the game and it will be quite a surprise if there are any changes from the side that defeated Hull 1-0 on Tuesday night. Having suffered such poor results when rotating his team in the Uefa and Carling Cups O'Neill will be keen not to make the same mistake again.

That means Nigel Reo Coker, deputising admirably as he always does at right back in the absence of Carlos Cuellar (Hamstring), is set to start and Boxing Day hero Zat Knight will continue alongside the impressive Curtis Davies at centre half.

Captain Martin Laursen is still out with a knee injury and Gabriel Agbonlahor will be again asked to play the lone striker with target man John Carew very worryingly sidelined for at least another month according to the player's agent.


Carew's injury is something O'Neill may have to look to address during the January transfer window. Whether he will be successful or not is another matter but Villa could struggle to maintain their push for a Champions League place without another option in attack.

Gillingham for their part have found a bit of consistency of late going their last 11 games unbeaten and will have been boosted by the signing of former Tottenham forward Andy Barcham who could cause Villa's makeshift defence problems.

But, the Gills will be without suspended defenders Barry Fuller and Gary Richards, which is a factor that Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and James Milner will look to exploit to the full. Midfielder Nicky Southall will also miss the game as he is cup tied.

If the season were to end without any silverware or a Champions League place it would prove a major disappointment for all concerned with the club.
With CSKA Moscow providing incredibly difficult opposition in the last 32 of the Uefa Cup and Arsenal and Everton sitting menacingly behind Villa in the league this is a game the Claret and Blue must look to win in their pursuit of glory.

Though, given Villa's woeful domestic cup form in recent years and the FA Cup's ability to throw up all manner of surprises you can never be too sure.