All right, Aston Villa fans -- how many of you know much about League 2 side Hereford United? What I know: they drew with AFC Wimbledon last weekend and they're called the Bulls. Oh, and Villa play them on Tuesday in the Carling Cup. Therefore, I got someone a bit smarter than me to give me the details. Thanks, Gary Andrews!
Hereford are very much a yo-yo club between non-league and the Football League. They've largely been a non-league team - they were elected to the league in 1976 and were relegated in 1997. They won the Conference playoff final in 2006 and went up to League One in 2008 but were relegated again the following season. Since then they've struggled, largely because their 2008 squad was build on loan players and they don't have much cash to attract new ones.
They were lucky to avoid relegation last season after an awful start to the season and are many people's tips to go down, although their former physio, Jamie Pitman, who used to play for them, took over midway through last season from Simon Davey, and led them to safety.
Not a big club, but one with a decent cup pedigree, although more in the FA Cup than league cup (they've only reached the 3rd round of this cup once). Famously, they knocked Newcastle United out of the cup in 1972 when they were a non-league team - it's regularly referred to as one of the greatest ever cup upsets. They did hold Arsenal to a 1-1 draw in the League Cup in 1985. Last season they reached the 4th round of the FA Cup, losing to Sheffield Wednesday.
Stuart Fleetwood's the main goal threat - former Cardiff City youth product, he scored 28 goals one season for Forest Green Rovers, who sold him to Charlton, where he never made an appearance. Exeter City took him on loan for a season and a half. He is a decent striker, but is very lazy and was a bit out of his depth. We barely played him towards the end of his spell at the club. He seems to have found his level and scoring touch at Hereford though.
Simon Clist has just signed on loan from Oxford - he's a very decent all-action midfielder and will cause problems. Ryan Green's a decent defender too. I reckon Pitman will set them up to hit Villa on the counter using Fleetwood's speed (he likes to play off the last man), possible assisted by targetman Delroy Facey.
Also, one last Hereford fact. Edgar Street has the smallest turnstiles I've even seen at a football ground - I find them a struggle to get through! (Ed. note: Gary -- not fat.)
So that's Hereford. Now, what about the Villa?
Considering Alex McLeish actually managed to add a trophy to Birmingham City's cabinet (it must be lonely), Villa are likely to want to make a strong run in the League Cup. But a strong run shouldn't include sending out the best XI against a League 2 side. Gabriel Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey, and Luke Young all suffered knocks against Blackburn on Saturday, and considering all three of them, put together, are about as strong as spun sugar. Putting them on the pitch on Tuesday would be about as smart as leaving out your champagne flutes while evacuating for a hurricane.
Fortunately, everyone else is healthy, so AML has plenty to work with. If he doesn't send out Brad Guzan in goal, I just might cry, considering there's no way Shay Given's groin is perfectly fit. Villa should probably not start an entirely inexperienced back line -- having one of James Collins and Richard Dunne will be necessary. But give Eric Lichaj and Nathan Baker a chance. I'd prefer to never see Habib Beye in a Villa kit again, but he's an option.
As for everyone else, for goodness sake, play Jean Makoun. I'm not sure -- none of us are sure, really -- why he hasn't seen the pitch this season. Give Fabian Delph a rest, as he's also a delicate champagne flute. If Stephen Ireland is really meant to be part of AML's plans, give him a run out. Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, Nathan Delfouneso...these are all players that should be included in the Carling Cup match.
So, Villa fans, what is your preferred starting XI for the game against Hereford? How many youngsters and reserves should get the nod?
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