By Dave Woodhall.
The League Cup used to be ‘our’ trophy. It’s provided more great memories over the past half-century than any other, which is why the current state of the competition is such a pity. Even with tickets starting at £10 there were barely over 21,000 inside Villa Park to watch us progress into the next round, and that included a couple of thousand from Hereford. And they seemed to enjoy themselves. So much so, in fact, that none of them asked for directions to pubs, most of them went straight into the ground and none were left on the streets of Aston well before the teams came out.
The crowd was disappointing; I’d have thought the opportunity to see some of our up and coming stars, plus some different opponents, would have tempted more of the regulars, while the reduced prices would have attracted those who have been priced out of the Premier League. But it wasn’t to be, and a low-key crowd saw a low-key match.
Villa were always on top without ever really threatening. Stephen Ireland missed a couple of chances, Darren Bent didn’t see much of the ball and the rest of the team had one of those nights when no-one played badly but there were few moments to capture the imagination. In fact, the outstanding player on display was Hereford goalkeeper David Cornell, a Welsh under-21 international on loan from Swansea who Villa should now be looking at closely.
Just when the visitors could see the final whistle in sight (and Villa supporters were beginning to worry whether losing to a team 87 places lower in the league would be a record) Eric Lichaj popped up to open the scoring with Nathan Delfouneso adding a second in the dying minutes. Leaving it so late may have looked poor, but if the goals had come midway through each half it would have been regarded as job done without much fuss. Six or seven-nil would have been nice but in reality that doesn’t happen very often.
Hereford deserved the healthy applause they got at the final whistle and their share of the gate money will come in handy. Villa eased into the next round without any injuries and it was easier than usual to get away from the ground. Four Premier League clubs have already been knocked out of the competition and if we aren’t drawn at home in the next round a new ground to visit would be welcome.
It was interesting afterwards to read the internet messageboards and see how many different views there were. Some said Stephen Ireland did well, others said he was poor. The same went for Jean Makoun and Marc Albrighton. Everyone, though, seemed to praise Barry Bannan, who gets better with every first team opportunity, while Andreas Weimann’s cameo was also full of promise.
An aside here – some teams made wholesale changes and put out what was described as ‘weakened’ teams last night. We made eight changes and the media commented about how we struggled despite our ‘strong’ line-up. Am I paranoid or are they really against us?
And finally, daft question of the night. A Hereford-based photographer was overheard asking if the coaches had arrived yet. That’s the coach park over there, mate – what do you think?