Blackburn v Aston Villa, Carling Cup semi-final first leg, January 5, 2010
The Carling Cup looks to have won out over the FA Cup this week as both Blackburn and Aston Villa revert to their first choice sides for the first leg of the semi final after sending out the reserves in the oldest cup competition in the world. Aston Villa overcame a Blackburn side shorn of most of their regulars in the first part of a cup trilogy on Saturday in front of a sparse crowd.
Nathan Delfouneso pressed his claims for a regular starting berth with the opener, Carlos Cuellar grabbed the second before Brad Guzan saved a penalty from David Dunn. Nikola Kalinic did pull one back early in the second half but a late John Carew penalty ensured a 3-1 victory and that the home side progressed to the fourth round and gained a psychological blow ahead of the semi-final which will see these two sides play each other three times in 18 days.
The major talking point of the FA Cup match was the sending off of El-Hadji Diouf for a poor tackle on Habib Beye. Sam Allardyce has criticised the Senegal striker for being â€œstupidâ€ and Diouf will now miss the next three games, including this match against Villa.
Allardyceâ€™s selection issues are compounded by the fact Franco Di Santo is ineligible for this competition and he took no chances with David Dunn, who has just returned from a month out with injury. Dunn played 55 minutes and will be a key player if Blackburn are to take a first leg lead at Ewood Park. (Aston Villa are 2/1 to keep a clean sheet.)
Blackburn come into this match in pretty woeful form (Blackburn are 11/1 to win both halves), take away their penalty shootout win over Chelsea in the last round and Sam Allardyceâ€™s side have not tasted victory since winning at Bolton in late November. Their last two Premier League encounters have ended in draws, with Wigan and Sunderland, and fans at Ewood Park will be hoping the prize of a Wembley encounter with one of the Manchester giants can produce a performance. (Blackburn are 11/5 to keep a clean sheet.)
Much will depend on the likes of Benni McCarthy, emerging youngster David Hoilett and Morten Gamst Pedersen to breach a solid looking Aston Villa backline that despite two recent defeats to Arsenal and Liverpool should be too strong for Blackburn over two matches. (Blackburn are 13/5 to score in both halves.)
Martin Oâ€™Neill has taken this competition seriously this season and will unleash his four England wingers, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Milner and Stewart Downing, who have all impressed in recent weeks. (Aston Villa are 11/5 to score in both halves.) We can also expect cup specialist Brad Guzan to start in place of Brad Friedel, and the former should be eager to impress after blotting his copybook on Saturday with some poor handling for Blackburnâ€™s goal after saving Dunnâ€™s penalty earlier in the match.
The other dilemma for Oâ€™Neill is whether to start with John Carew or Emile Heskey. Since he former Liverpool and Leicester striker played the full 90 minutes on Saturday we can expect Carew to be given the nod. The big Norwegian could be crucial at both ends of the pitch especially against Blackburnâ€™s aerial threat.
Villa manager Oâ€™Neill has been quick to downplay the significance of the win in the FA Cup: â€œWinning wonâ€™t do us any harm, but Tuesday night will be different set of circumstances and a different game.â€ Ashley Young also agrees: “The FA Cup game will have no bearing on Tuesday. It is a different game, a different competition.”
This is undoubtedly a great chance for both sides to make a major final but Villa look to have the quality to go all the way. Sam Allardyceâ€™s side have already beaten Villa at Ewood Park this season, 2-1 (11/1) in September, and this first leg will likely be a tight close encounter (5/6 to be under 2.5 goals) to leave the second match on a knife edge.
101gg predicts: Blackburn 1 â€“ Aston Villa 1 (6/1)
Full match odds here.