Date: 25th October 2010 at 12:45pm
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The Clarets have to now quickly put the humiliating 4-0 home defeat to Reading on Saturday behind them and focus on the fourth round of the Carling Cup competition coming up on Wednesday night. They face a tough challenge on the road against Premier League opposition with Aston Villa the hosts at Villa Park.

The Preamble

Burnley go into this Carling Cup clash on a bit of a downer after losing 4-0 to Reading at home on Saturday but somehow they have to regroup and try and avoid another tonking this time against top flight opposition on their home soil. Villa Park is never a good place to go to and over the years it has certainly been a bit of a bogey ground for the Clarets. We first played Villa in the 188-89 season although they did not move to Villa Park until 1897. Nevertheless in 55 away battles against Villa we have lost 33 times managing just eight wins and fourteen draws over the years. We played them last at Villa Park of course only last season in the Premier League but despite taking the lead we had to endure a 5-2 defeat; the type of scoreline we need to avoid at all costs on Wednesday night if we want to keep our confidence high for the important Championship battles ahead.

Promotion to the top flight has to be our main priority and gone are the days it seems when the Carling Cup was an important cash cow for the club with Clarets fans hoping and praying for juicy games against Premier League clubs simply to better the club`s financial position. In the last round though it was a different story of course with Owen Coyle`s Bolton the visitors to Turf Moor! That was obviously an emotional night and an important game for us to win with pride and passion at stake. To be honest the fourth round draw after our 1-0 victory over Bolton seems somewhat of an anti-climax and certainly I will not be too fussed if we exit the competition at this stage providing it does not rock our confidence and we can keep the score respectable. Of course you want your team to win but if I was Brian Laws I would be tempted to give the fringe players a run out and minimise our chances of picking up injuries and suspensions to our key players.

Aston Villa have had a bit of a roller-coaster ride after the shock of losing their manager Martin O`Neill just five days before the start of the 2010-11 season. His resignation appeared to rock the confidence at the club and they struggled at times in the first few games of the season under caretaker manager, Kevin MacDonald even suffering a 6-0 tonking away to Newcastle. The ship though seems to have been steadied under their new manager and former Liverpool gaffer, Gérard Houllier. They currently lie 10th in the Premier League table although by their standards they might have been hoping for a Top 5 spot by now. Villa though are currently just four points behind the fifth placed club, Spurs after nine games. Their home form though is reasonable and they have yet to be defeated at Villa Park with two wins and two draws so far including a point against League leaders Chelsea. In the Carling Cup they knocked out our bitter rivals, Blackburn Rovers in the third round at Villa Park. They came from behind at half-time to ultimately win 3-1. The Clarets will have to try and ensure that Villa don`t claim another East Lancashire scalp on Wednesday night

Aston Villa Team News:

Bulgarian international midfielder and Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov limped off in the game away to Sunderland last Saturday. He will be having a scan this week to assess the damage to his knee.

Houllier believes it will be a Grade 1 lateral ligament injury which may mean two or three weeks to recover. It looks unlikely then that he will recover in time for Wednesday`s clash so this could be a chance for Steve Sidwell to shine.

England international striker, Gabriel Agbonlahor also remains an injury doubt. It has been a torrid season for the 23 year old so far. He missed the first three games of the season with a calf problem and is yet to open his account in the Premier League this campaign. Agbonlahor also had minor surgery on his groin earlier this month and has yet to fully recover and return to the side.

Defender Luke Young is also recovering from a torn hamstring after picking up the injury in training just before Villa`s home game against Chelsea earlier this month. He will be sidelined for the clash against the Clarets.

Player to watch: Stewart Downing

Aston Villa do not appear to have any rampant goal-scorers at the moment although left winger Stewart Downing appears to be showing the way with three goals to his credit so far in the top flight having also sneaked into the 15th spot in the Barclays Premier League Top Scorers table.

Downing signed a four-year contract with Aston Villa, becoming Martin O’Neill’s first signing of the 2009 summer transfer window. He cost Villa £10 million with an extra £2 million to be paid to Middlesbrough depending on appearances. Injury though kept him sidelined for a time and in fact Downing made his Aston Villa début coming on as a 69th minute substitute for Steve Sidwell in our Premier League home game against them back in November 2009.

The 26 year old England international will need to be carefully watched on Wednesday night. Downing scored his first and second league goal for Villa in their 5-2 win against the Clarets at Villa Park in February 2010 so we dont want any repeat of that performance.

Burnley Team News:

Clarke Carlisle returns after completing his three-match suspension following the straight red card he picked up at Millwall.

Leon Cort though picked up an automatic one-match ban following his red card for a second-bookable offence against Reading on Saturday.

There has been no news of any further injuries following our last game against Reading so at the moment we only have Chris McCann sidelined.

Player to watch: Jack Cork

Cork probably had his first indifferent game for the Clarets on Saturday but then the whole team were pretty lacklustre having ‘one of those days` whilst suffering a pretty pathetic 4-0 defeat on home soil. Jack Cork would be expected to feature at some point during the game at Villa Park and is likely to be in the starting eleven. The on-loan midfielder from Chelsea is just the sort of player we will need on the pitch against top flight opposition away from home so let`s hope he returns to the excellent form of late in the engine room and can begin to help put Villa under pressure.

Team & Tactics

It is difficult to know how Laws will play this game. Will he have one eye on the crucial Championship match against QPR at Loftus Road this Saturday and put out a weakened side or will he select his strongest team in an effort to progress to the quarter final stage? He put out a full-strength team against Bolton of course but then there was so much at stake in that one with Coyle`s past history being at the forefront.

Laws might also second guess Aston Villa and assume they too might be putting out a weakened side but would they do that?

There is no doubt in my mind that the priority this season has to be to try and get promotion back to the top flight and we should perhaps not jeopardise our chances of that by running the risk of picking up injury and suspensions to our key players in cup competitions. Having said that being in the Quarter Finals of the Carling Cup does have an appealing ring to it!

Brian Laws certainly seems to have options with Clarke Carlisle also now available following his three-match ban. There is no news of any further injuries with only Chris McCann at the moment recovering from injury. Although McCann is making good progress following cruciate ligament surgery he won`t be expected to make an appearance until January at the earliest.

Leon Cort of course was sent off against Reading on Saturday for a second bookable offence and picks up an automatic one match suspension although that will not be such a major headache for Laws with Carlisle returning and Michael Duff available and chomping at the bit for the chance to shine.

In terms of a predicted team sheet I would go with a ‘half-way` house and give some of the fringe players a chance to play and make an impression. Brian Easton deserves his chance at left back and I would name him in the starting eleven with Fox on the bench. Clarke Carlisle should also perhaps be held in reserve on the bench with Duff partnering Bikey in midfield. Could this be an opportunity for captain, Graham Alexander to return to the starting eleven and take back the holding midfield role? It is a difficult one with Jack Cork playing well in that role. Grezza could suffer from the pace of the game bearing in mind the Premier League opposition and I have a feeling we should continue with Jack Cork if we have any serious intention of progressing to the last eight. Jack Cork could of course play a normal midfield role and there might be some temptation to bring back Grezza in holding midfield and play Cork in a more attacking midfield role with perhaps Marney making way. We certainly might benefit from Grezza`s captaincy but can we afford to play him against such high-quality opposition?

I also have a sneaky suspicion that Lee Grant will be given his chance in goal with Jensen on the bench and surely it`s time we give Martin Paterson a proper run out? I would like to see Pato up front with Iwelumo in 4-4-2 rather than playing him wider but what do i know!

I would go with the following eighteen and have some of our key players on the bench to bring on should things start going tits-up:

Grant, Mears, Duff, Bikey, Easton, Alexander, Eagles, Cork, Elliott, Paterson, Iwelumo

Subs: Jensen, Fox, Carlisle, Marney, Wallace, Rodriguez, Thompson

Ref Watch:

Premier League referee, Mike Jones (Cheshire) is in control of this game and in the eight games he has been in charge this season he has handed out 26 yellow cards and one red.

Match Prediction:

It is difficult to predict anything other than a defeat against Premier League opposition on their home soil, especially at Villa Park, a ground where we very rarely come away with any cheer. Even if Laws puts out a strong first team we could struggle to progress further in this competition. I hope if we do lose we can limit the score to a 1-0 or 2-1-type defeat. Another tonking after the 4-0 loss to Reading at home in our last game would be terrible for confidence with the crucial Championship match against leaders, QPR at Loftus Road coming up on Saturday.

2-1 to Villa, sorry!

Next Fixtures:

We play Championship league leaders QPR at Loftus Road on Saturday 30th October (Kick-Off: 3pm). The Rs have wobbled in recent games although they are still undefeated this season. This is going to be a tough challenge but one I sense we could win