City and Dave Jones will be pacified by a big improvement as battered pride was restored but, to me anyway, we seemed happy enough to take the 1-0 defeat. Every time City have gone behind this season, they have failed to hit back and have lost.
However they showed that they are more than capable of getting a result at Sheffield Wednesday this Saturday when it really matters.
### Team News ###
CARDIFF CITY boss Dave Jones was unreserved in his criticism of the team's worse than hopeless display at home to QPR last Saturday. Marshall, Quinn, Hudson and Chopra were rested or dropped as Enckleman was between the posts, Adam Matthews was recovered from injury, Gyepes got a (overdue?) run out at centre half and Scimeca was tried as a holding midfielder and Bothroyd as a lone target man as DJ played a 4-1-4-1 system.
CCFC - Enckleman; Matthews-Gerrard-Gyepes-Capaldi; Scimeca; Burke-Rae-Ledley-Whittingham; Bothroyd. Enks, Scimeca and Peter Whittingham were former Villa players.
ASTON VILLA are the first ever winners of this trophy now in its fiftieth year and have won it another 4 times since. Being 5th in the Premiership, attempting to get a Champions League spot, no matter how unlikely, would be their biggest aim but boss Martin O'Neil has to see the Carling Cup as his best (only?) chance of a trophy for the season. So it was no surprise to see a strong unit but even with prices pegged to £5/£15/£20, it didn't pull in the punters as 22,517 had all the home sections looking sparse.
The background for home fans was whether one-time City target Nigel Reo-Coker would be involved after being removed from their squad for the weekend 2-0 win over Pompey after an argument (or scuffle) with O'Neill. The answer was that he still didn't make the squad - can we have him on loan please Mr O'Neill???
### THE MATCH ###
Plenty of City fans had the day off or half day and made a full event of it - and showed all the signs of being out all day too! - but I was picked up from work in Newport at 4:45 with a 108 mile journey in rush hour and with parking to contend with too. However a Tesco store was 300 yards away and the parking attendant was happy to accept a small donation not to ticket us - giving us a false parking sleeve to display too - what brilliant service! So we made it by kick-off.
This was the first competitive clash between the sides for almost 35 years but thanks to Euro'96 and a postponed City F.A. Cup game at Bolton while we were en route diverting a few hundred of there just to see a game, it was my third visit to the ground. It's still a grand sight. Villa Park is massive but quaint, a proper football stadium - I really enjoyed it.
City fans were in two stands. The key one was behind the goal and looked overcrowded as some seats at the front were blocked off with netting leaving fans to block all the aisles and staircases it seemed. We were at the summit of the Doug Ellis stand to the side of the pitch which was some climb up 6 flights of stairs but had plenty of room.
City were, naturally, making all the noise and the side opened well but Villa's first attack inside 2 minutes produce the goal that decided it and way too soft and simple it was. Scimeca's poor pass was cut out, Carew was fed wide, Capaldi stood off and then stood off even more allowing the player to advance and send in a low ball unchallenged - his pass finding AGBONLAHOR in front of Gyepes and his crafty back flick left Enks stranded.
It could have been a trigger for collapse but City came striding back making Villa's defence look troubled for a good half hour but City were too ponderous - always wanting an extra touch or failing with final passes - and when the chances came, they weren't taken. The worst culprits being Ledley and Gyepes both putting free headers over when the target has to be hit.
Rae had a go with 3,500 fans urging him to shoot, his deflected effort was clawed off the line and Bothroyd's follow up caught the keeper's legs but rolled across goal before being scrambled away, a terrific Bothroyd drive clipped the outside of a post. Chris Burke meanwhile went on a scintillating run beating three defenders but when the opening was there, he wanted to do even more and the chance had gone. Arrgh! Villa had two dangerous moments but Gyepes got in big hits to deny Agbonlahor.
However once this period subsided, the game became a bit of a non-entity. The home side in reasonable control but not doing much, Cardiff never bothering them at all. It was a pattern that lasted the rest of the game.
Half-time: VILLA 1 CITY 0
I felt Cardiff would try to keep it tight and go for broke for the final quarter. It worked out that way but City never pushed and gambled as much as I thought they should or would which disappointed me.
The key however is that our midfield just cannot impose themselves with the personnel we have. They all did decent jobs but Burke's early dynamics had subsided, Ledley didn't get forward, or attempt to do that, and we seemed to lack devil, pace and energy. Dave Jones' public persona is calm, laid back and it seemed like City were trying to mimic his style! The game, to me, resembled a training work out rather and was anything but a full blooded cup tie.
Just before the hour, Villa broke clear and Gyepes gave away the most obvious penalty but James Milner - who was able to conduct proceedings in central midfield - struck a post with Enckleman going the right way.
City responded to that let off by throwing on Chopra for Scimeca but it wasn't matched by more ambition otherwise with nobody showing the tempo, urgency and drive to worry the home side. City were doing well but that's not to say it wasn't comfortable for Villa.
Set pieces were wasted again. Two hit the wall (Chops trying one effort from over 30 yards away was ridiculous), one flew wide but Whittingham finally got one on target and made Guzman save - the first time that's happened in a while!
City's only other chance of note was Ledley sending a ball over the top, Chops reacted first but failed to connect at pace and an angle as Guzman charged out. Had he done so, I'm sure he would have scored.
Disappointingly, even in the final minutes, Dave Jones never gambled. No more subs until Wildig appeared in added time and no change in formation. However there was added time drama as a free-kick saw a scramble, the ball headed back in and Bothroyd turn home but the lino had his flag up before he shot … tv now shows that was a wrong call. Not that I'm surprised, the same lino had a few other calls wrong on the night - giving throw ins the wrong way and missing Chopra win a corner being prime examples.
A gallant effort and the side were warmly applauded at final whistle. Somehow I suspect they'll be happy with that. A bit more belief and sharpness however and I'm convinced it could, and perhaps would, have been so much more.
Report from FootyMad
If anyone needed proof of the vast improvement being shown by Gabby Agbonlahor there was no better example than the England striker's goalscoring ability as he demonstrated with a third-minute goal.
Agbonlahor's early effort - his fourth goal in four games - paved the way for Aston Villa's Carling Cup progress to halt a run of poor results against teams from lower divisions in the competition.
It was Villa's sixth straight win as they continue to build upon their best start to the season since 1998.
But Villa, five times winners of the League Cup, made hard work of their task against a Cardiff City side that played with no small measure of skill.
With five changes from the side which beat Portsmouth at the weekend, Villa made a perfect start when Agbonlahor nonchalantly flicked a John Carew cross past Peter Enckelman in his all pink outfit.
Surprisingly Villa, watched by their smallest crowd of the season, 22,527, failed to take full advantage of the situation and James Milner even missed a second-half penalty.
One of the pleasing features in Villa's latest win was the performance of teenager Fabian Delph who was preferred in midfield to the out of favour Nigel Reo-Coker.
He produced some skilful play against the Championship side which indicates a promising future at Villa Park.
Cardiff were certainly not over-awed despite trailing by the early goal. Gabor Gyepes went close to equalising, while Gavin Rae's swirling shot had Brad Guzan in all sorts of trouble.
Chris Burke proved to be a tricky customer, while Jay Boothroyd was a persistent threat as Villa survived several anxious moments as a result of some casual play.
The Welsh club kept plugging away as Villa appeared content to hang on to their slender lead.
Milner was always industrious but there was no one around to take advantage of his work.
But it was Milner who should have put the game out of Cardiff's reach in the 58th minute. Stiliyan Petrov was brought down by Gyepes, who was booked for the offence, in the penalty area.
Milner, however, blasted his powerful penalty kick against the post and in so doing raised Cardiff's hopes of an equaliser.
But Villa maintained their grip on the game and eased into the fourth round to the relief of manager Martin O'Neill.