The year was 1994. The manager was charismatic ‘Big Fat Ron’ Atkinson. Back then the league cup was called, the slightly cooler, ‘Coca-Cola’ Cup but, Aston Villa found themselves in strikingly similar circumstances. They had recently lost the first leg of the Semi Final 3-1 against Tranmere Rovers, a team that were one division below them. At 3-0 down it looked as if Villa were all but doomed but, Dailian Atkinson gave ‘Big Ron’s’ side a last minute life line.
Fast forward to the present and at 7.45 tonight Aston Villa go into the second leg of the ‘Capital One’ Cup Semi Final 3-1 down to Bradford City. A team that are not one division lower than Aston Villa but, three. This time it was an Andreas Weimann goal that has provided Villa with a life line.
For those unfamiliar with what happened during the return leg in 1994 then your memory is void of an epic football match. Villa quickly romped into a 2-0 lead with goals by Dean Saunders and Shaun Teal, only to see John Aldridge pull one back for Tranmere and Mark Bosnich nearly sent off.
Villa pegged Tranmere back for the entire second half but, did not get that crucial third goal until two minutes from time, when Daley crossed for Atkinson. Tranmere then nearly nicked it when a free kick struck the woodwork with only seconds remaining. Extra time was uneventful and Villa looked in serious danger when Ugo Ehiogu and Kevin Richardson missed their penalties in the shoot out. Then Villa’s Mark Bosnich saved two penalties, sandwiched between a Tony Daley goal, to put ‘Big Ron’s’ side in the final.
That tension filled return leg victory will feed Villa fan’s with hope tonight, no doubt Paul Lambert will also be using it as ammunition to fire up his team during the pre match team talk. Despite Villa’s struggling form they remain a Premier League side and should possess enough quality to score more than two goals, without reply, against a team three divisions below them. Bradford have not won a game in League Two since their surprise victory over Villa but, will be refreshed having seen their weekend fixture cancelled due to adverse weather. Villa on the other hand may still be recovering from a vigorous Midlands derby against WBA in the evening kick off on Saturday.
Villa will be without the injured Baker and Westwood who is cup tied. Delph is 50/50 but it looks too soon for Richard Dunne’s return.Weimann, Ireland and Bannan may be looking for a starting place, if Lambert mixes up the team that played on Saturday. Bradford have a fit squad to choose from with striker James Hanson returning from a broken toe and new signing Michael Nelson also available.
The first 20 minutes of the game will be crucial. If Villa can get an early goal then Bradford may begin to panic and fall apart. However, the longer the game goes on goalless the more Bradford will grow in confidence. Villa will want to avoid the penalty shoot-out scenario of ’94,’ as Bradford have won an incredibly sequence of 9 shoot-out wins in succession. This will be a tough match for Villa, but by no means unwinnable, the Tranmere Semi Final is evidence of that.
What happened after the Semi Final in 1994? ‘Big Fat Ron’s claret and blue army went on to win the competition, beating Manchester United 3-1 in the final.
images: © Ben Sutherland