Quick, what do these things have in common?
- 2013-14 FA Cup
- 2012-2013 FA Cup
- 2012-13 League Cup
If you answered "competitions in which Aston Villa were knocked out by a lower-league side" you have successfully earned your degree in misery. Congrats!
For those keeping track at home, that's 75% of the cup competitions that Paul Lambert has been a part of in his time at the club. To be fair to Lambert, that time has also included some pretty fantastic cup wins, including the 2-4 stunner at Manchester City in the 2012-13 League Cup. But that win, which led on to a great run, was overshadowed by the 4-3 aggregate loss to Bradford City in the semifinals.
So you can probably understand why we're all a bit nervy about starting the League Cup against Leyton Orient tomorrow. While most other teams would salivate at the chance to begin the easiest to win of the cups against a League One side, we just have visions of more failure. Add to that the fact that this match is being played in Villa Park, home in the past two years to some of the most uninspired football that many of us have ever seen, and this match is hardly the cakewalk it seems it should be.
But, in reality, anything other than an optimistic view about this match is silly. Be as negative as you want, but the talent we should see on display tomorrow–which will not be the Premier League starting XI–should beat Leyton Orient nearly every time. The reason those losses above have stung so much is the fact that they should not have happened. Paul Lambert, through his summer transfer dealings and public statements, has demonstrated that he's got a new attitude about this club. Losing against League One sides, even ones that narrowly avoided promotion to the Championship last year, is unacceptable.
Plus there is the simple fact that the squad is not nearly as shallow this year as it was last. There are plenty of options for Lambert to choose from in most every position. Gabby Agbonlahor, who has been anathema in the first two league matches this year, generally performs well above his head in cup matches. But he could be spelled by a full match from Darren Bent. Aly Cissokho won't be available, but he could be replaced by Kieran Richardson, while Joe Cole could take the latter's place. Heck, we could very well see a full match from Carlos Sanchez tomorrow as he works his way into the team.
Almost any way you pare it, this is a team that should thump a Leyton Orient squad whose most notable player from our perspective is former Villan Shane Lowry. If the feared happens and Villa lose, we can talk about it then. But let's not fear it now. Chances are we'll be looking forward to our next draw by the time the match ends tomorrow. And hopefully it's not another League One side. Those things are pesky.