Underdogs Blackburn hope to upset Aston Villa in the Carling Cup semi-final

Blackburn v Aston Villa, Carling Cup semi-final first leg, January 14, 2010

Blackburn 2/1; Draw 5/2; Aston Villa 6/4

It is lucky that Blackburn have home advantage in this first leg as they come into this tie off the back of an appalling performance at Eastlands on Monday night and in such poor form that Aston Villa are heavy favourites. (Aston Villa are 4/9 to reach the final.)

Rovers have now gone nine games (of which five were draws) without a Premier League win after their mauling at the hands of Carlos Tevez and co. Sam Allardyce’s side are three points off the relegation zone and a Wembley final could be just the fillip to turn the campaign around. (Blackburn are 2/1 to reach the final.)

Big Sam was in an unforgiving mood after the 4-1 defeat at City. Blackburn were second best all over the park and failed to show the characteristics of an Allardyce side. As a result we could see major changes to the team that faces Villa on Thursday night.

The former Bolton and Newcastle manager warned: “Thursday is a great game, it is a massive opportunity to get to Wembley and some of the players have jeopardised their position to play in the best game they had for many years. The disappointing thing is that I wanted a hard job picking a team. Unfortunately the team hasn’t played to its best and it has left me opportunities to make changes wherever I feel like it.”

Striker Benni McCarthy is now a doubt for the Carling Cup semi final first leg after injuring himself in the warm up at Eastlands. He joins Vince Grella and Jason Roberts on the treatment table and the problems up front are compounded by El-Hadji Diouf’s suspension and Franco Di Santo’s ineligibility for this competition. (Aston Villa are 15/8 to keep a clean sheet.)

The Ewood Park faithful will be hoping for big performances from David Dunn who has been their best player this season and Croatian Nikola Kalinic who should lead the line, perhaps with support from promising youngster David Hoillett. The other attacking player Villa will have to be wary of is Morten Gamst Pedersen who produced a fine finish for Blackburn’s solitary goal at Manchester City. (Blackburn are 5/2 to score in both halves.)

Aston Villa come into this game after a nine day rest due to the inclement weather with their last match the 3-1 FA Cup third round win over a Blackburn reverse team (27/1 to repeat the scorline). The previous encounter should not have much bearing on Thursday’s game as both teams played weakened sides in preparation for this game three days later which was eventually postponed.

Martin O’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. 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 in the FA Cup match with some poor handling for Blackburn’s goal after saving Dunn’s penalty earlier in the game. (Aston Villa are 13/2 to win in both halves.)

The other dilemma for O’Neill, as it has been all season, is whether to start with John Carew or Emile Heskey. Two defeats to Arsenal and Liverpool in the league over Christmas punctured some of Villa’s momentum but they have been impressive in 2009/2010 so far and have a number of players itching to get to Wembley, including Richard Dunne who will be playing in his first major semi-final of a 14-year career. (Aston Villa are 5/2 to score in both halves.)

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. Blackburn have already beaten Villa at Ewood Park this season, 2-1 in September, and this first leg will likely be tight and this could be a great opportunity for Martin O’Neill’s to put one leg in the final before the second leg next Wednesday.

101gg predicts: Blackburn 1 – Aston Villa 2 (10/1)

Blackburn 2/1; Draw 5/2; Aston Villa 6/4

Full match odds here.