With the Paul Lambert era having met its unceremonious end, the Tim Sherwood era can now (kind of) begin. Aston Villa's new boss will likely be only an observer when his new side take the pitch against Leicester City in today's Fifth Round FA Cup clash, but if the rumblings that Lambert lost the locker room and confidence of his players are true, it's likely that it will show in the team's play this afternoon. The (short-term) success or failure of Randy Lerner's decision to cut ties with Lambert and bring in the former Spurs boss won't be known until Villa's status as a Premier League side has been confirmed. B ut if a Villa side whose free-fall was made clear by being thoroughly outplayed by Hull City last weekend can show signs of life in their first match post-Lambert, it's certainly a positive early sign.
While the FA Cup is certainly less important at this point that fighting off the threat of relegation, it must be said that with each passing round the goal of winning it seems more realistic. Plenty of big clubs have been eliminated already - Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal were the only top-6 clubs remaining in the competition coming into this round - and Saturday's fixtures saw the eliminations of West Ham and Stoke City. Villa are certainly miles from being favorites at this point, but another upset or two could make the competition as wide-open as any in recent memory. Given what Villa have endured these past few seasons, it's no mystery what winning the FA Cup for the first time since 1957 would mean for the club and its fans.
That's not happening unless Villa manage to get past Leicester though, and that's far from a guarantee. Villa have already faced the Foxes twice in the Premier League this season, with the home side taking the result each time. They were very hard-fought and at times quite nasty contests, and it's probably fair to say at this point that there's something of a rivalry developing between the two. It's reasonable to expect more of the same this afternoon - especially given that it's a cup tie - and how Villa respond to the pressure could be very telling. Clearly, nothing that happens in this one match is proof of anything regarding Villa's former manager one way or another. But managerial changes and the renewed sense of competition that accompany them have a way of lighting a fire under players.
That this isn't a league match and that Lambert has been sacked certainly makes this less of a must-win kind of game than last week's loss at Hull City, and given the transitory nature of the current period a loss would be far from devastating. But the boost to morale that would accompany a deep cup run can't be overstated, and hitting the ground running in the first match after a managerial change would certainly be an encouraging sign. Villa fans have become used to adopting a siege mentality and focusing on the potential downsides - and for reasons that are understandable - but this game is all about upside. The pain of a loss will be focused entirely on missed opportunity, which is disappointing but not panic-inducing. But the spoils of a win would mean a great deal more to a club very much in need of a sign that better days are on the horizon.