For much of the bleak winter months, Aston Villa's run towards the Capital One Cup semifinal provided the only real positive moments of the season. A come-from-behind extra-time thriller over Manchester City and a drumming of Norwich City on their own pitch stood in such stark contrast to what was happening in the Premier League that it was hard not to revel in these isolated successes, but the cruel hand of fate being what it is it was also the League Cup that brought one of last season's bleakest moments in the semi-final exit at the hand of League Two (at the time) Bradford City.
Still, it was at the very least a fun ride. And today begins yet another, one which will hopefully end in a fashion less analogous to a swift kick directed at whichever part of ones anatomy would be least pleasant. League One side Rotherham United will visit Villa Park, with an eye towards the pulling off the second major upset of the tournament (with Bristol City's 2-1 win over Crystal Palace being the first.) Rotherham is managed by Steve Evans, most notable for
destroying Boston United leading non-league Crawley Town to a narrow defeat at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. Rotherham is also know for being the club with which I began my most successful career on Jumpers For Goalpoasts, which-for the record-I finished with Villa and ended in several consecutive Premier League titles.
I don't mean to be glib, I just don't have a great deal of exposure to Rotherham. To this point in the League One season they've gone undefeated in taking six points from four games, and they earned the right to face Villa thanks to a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday. In spite of his
detestable scuzziness difficult past, Evans seems to be a very competent manager and it's clear that Rotherham are likely to present a greater challenge than a randomly selected League One Side. But for Villa, the main concern is to get a longer look at some of the players on the edge of the first team without sacrificing a place in the next round of the League Cup.
That should (hopefully) mean that Villa has a real chance to give some time to players on the periphery. Players like Leandro Bacuna, Aleksandar Tonev, Nicklas Helenius, Jordan Bowery, Marc Albrighton, Joe Bennett, Chris Herd, Gary Gardner and Jed Steer aren't likely to make a first-choice push on traaining performances and substitute appearances alone, but their efforts in theLeague Cup could easily push them into the conversation. If nothing else, it's a chance for a different look. One of the nice things about the League Cup-at least in its earlier rounds-is the near guarantee of something new.
Villa's the favorite here, no matter what lineup they field. That's not any guarantee against a tight fixture-to which Liverpool, Fulham, Sunderland and Crystal Palace would no doubt attest-but it is a welcome change from the first week of the Premier League season. That in and of itself ought to be a welcome change. After all, three games in one week as severe underdogs is likely to bring out the desire to put a severe hiding on the opposition. That might be a bit overzealous, but with the talent in this side and the standing of the opposition, anything other than a win would be a severe disappointment.