Just when Paul Lambert was perhaps starting to get fans back on side, he came out with a comment that was as embarrassing as it was disheartening: in his press conference for the Sheffield United game, Lambert stated that the FA Cup is something he believes a lot of top flight managers could do without. This is a view that has not gone down well with fans, pundits or former players.
It may be the case that Lambert is under pressure to deliver and if we do lose tomorrow then he has already gotten his excuses in early. However, the lack of ambition displayed by our manager is sure to increase the pressure on him from Villa fans up and down the country when tomorrow would have been the perfect opportunity to regain the support of the Villa Park masses by winning comfortably for once on home turf.
Following on from a mixed bag of results over the Christmas period, there is the chance of a potential FA Cup run, regardless of what Lambert, says as Villa take on League One side Sheffield United tomorrow afternoon. The former Premier League side find themselves struggling somewhat in their division but, under the guidance of Nigel Clough, the Blades will sense a upset could be on the cards come 5p.m. on Saturday evening.
The return of Christian Benteke has given the Villa Park faithful a boost and his impressive display against Sunderland on New Year’s Day was the strongest hint yet that he could be close to returning to the form that we saw him produce towards the end of last season. The return to that form is now vital as Libor Kozak has suffered a broken leg in training and will miss the remainder of the season, which is a big blow indeed.
Many Villa fans will now be looking to see whether or not a replacement striker will be brought in this transfer window to replace the giant Czech who has made a good start to his Villa career and has already became a favourite with the Villa fans.
Another expectation of Villa fans is the signing of one or two ‘experienced heads’ who can give ‘the other lads a hand’ both in the dressing room and on the pitch, players Lambert has identified as targets for this transfer window.
A mixture of changes and players needing match time to improve their fitness (and to return to scoring in Benteke’s case) will make up the starting XI that takes to the field tomorrow for the third round of the cup against Sheffield United. Fringe players such as Jed Steer, Yacouba Sylla, Aleksander Tonev and Karim El Ahmadi will more than likely come in to the team, offering them a chance to impress while out of favour striker Nicklas Helenius could be given his first start in a Villa shirt, which could help him prove that his time at Villa can be successful.
Christian Benteke could also be selected as he looks to get back to full match fitness ahead of a series of difficult Premier League matches following the FA Cup game this Saturday. The Belgian striker will also be looking to get back on the goal trail as he is currently going through something of a drought by his standards and he will be keen to rediscover his form in time for the World Cup next summer.
Libor Kozak has joined other long term absentee, Jores Okore, on the treatment table after he suffered a broken leg in an inconspicuous training ground accident with Ciaran Clark on Thursday which has put an end to the Czech striker’s season.
Sheffield United come in to this game having lost just once in their last nine outings: a New Year’s Day defeat to another Midlands side, Walsall, saw Nigel Clough’s team taste defeat for the first time in quite a while.
The Blades faced Villa in the FA Cup a few seasons ago, with Gerard Houllier’s team emerging victorious that day with goals coming from Kyle Walker, Marc Albrighton and Stiliyan Petrov.
The red half of Sheffield do not have any injuries for the game and, following on from Paul Lambert’s comments about the FA Cup being something of a burden, Nigel Clough will have set his sights firmly on a Cup upset and progress to the fourth round of the cup.
Venue: Villa Park
Kick off: 3p.m.
Tickets: There are still tickets available for the game tomorrow. Prices start from £10 for adults and £5 for children.
Referee: David Coote
Last meeting: Sheffield United 1-3 Aston Villa (2010)
Aston Villa 1-0 Sheffield United – @MrOMeara
Aston Villa 2-0 Sheffield United – Mark Lawrenson