It’s a gift from heaven but I still haven’t worked out how to bring the Supremes – or Bananarama, if you’re younger – Nathan Jones into this preview. Perhaps I will as I go along although I am pretty sure the Luton Town manager has heard the quip before. “If I had a pound, etc.”
Tonight’s League Cup tie at Kenilworth is Villa’s first at this stage since 1961. Bradford City, 4 – 3, in case you’re wondering so there’s a 100% record to defend. It has no bearing on tonight but a useful fact to know, I suppose.
It’s interesting how the way that we view fixtures is influenced by our memories of a ground. Realistically, you’ve got to be pushing forty to remember a Villa win in this part of Hertfordshire. Kenilworth Road was a grotty ground when it had plastic turf and didn’t improve when they re-laid it to grass turf. Nothing I’ve seen since our last visit there in 1992 has changed my mind over that.
And then there’s the appalling record of 2 wins in 18 matches there…
But that was then and this is now. In his pre-match press conference, Roberto Di Matteo, despite being wary about the pitfalls of these fixtures, promised changes from Sunday’s defeat at Hillsborough. The rigours of a season need to be prepared for, even at this early stage of proceedings.
It’s a tricky decision though with the need to keep the balance between victory and saving the players for matches later in the season. Defeat in a cup-tie at lower opposition is always an unpleasant experience and despite the positive signs on Sunday, there’s still a nagging doubt that the frailties are still there, bubbling below the surface.
One I’d resist making is in goal. This is an early opportunity for Pierluigi Gollini to put the horror of the weekend behind him and a good performance would do him the world of good. I’m not even contemplating another howler.
Ross McCormack is another I would include. Arriving late last week didn’t offer much time to embed with the squad, this cup-tie has an element of perfect timing for the Scot to make his first start for the club.
The only other question mark is over Tommy Elphick. You want your captain playing every game but it’s more important he’s ready for Saturday’s league match than risking re-opening the wound tonight. It was a nasty cut but if he’s healed, including him is a no-brainer.
Beyond that, I’m not second guessing RDM’s thinking. ‘Bigger’ clubs have a reputation of fielding sides which negotiate this stage of the competition. We did at Notts County last season. I’m not going to pretend the result doesn’t matter because I’m never flippant about competitive matches, whatever the venue or competition.
However, we need to view this in the context of the season. A win is important to break this campaign’s duck but also to stop a ‘rot’ building. Feigning disinterest in the League Cup is a football hipster’s pastime; we want the win to go on and build understandings which will benefit us in the Championship.
Surely we’ve got enough to win tonight, no matter the side? We have, haven’t we?
And I never got that Supremes reference in, did I…