After being denied a trip to Wembley by League Two Bradford City on Tuesday, Aston Villa head into another cup tie without a lot to lose and much less to gain.
In case you hadn't noticed, things aren't going especially well for Aston Villa at the moment. The club's last win* came on January 5th against Ipswich in the previous round of the FA Cup, and their last league victory was on December 15th. The club is 17th in the league and just a point above the relegation zone, they were knocked out of the League Cup in embarrassing fashion earlier this week, and the mood in and around the club is somber bordering on outright depression. Oh, and they probably aren't going to sign any players in this window, because Randy Lerner and Paul Lambert seem to be convinced they're going to be relegated.**
If you're a fan of looking on the bright side then, you might see Villa's FA Cup clash with Millwall as an opportunity to pick up some confidence and get things headed back in the right direction. I personally am a fan of looking on the bright side, but I don't see things that way because my ability to actually look on the bright side where Aston Villa is concerned has been beaten out of me over the course of the past two years. Instead of a chance to right the ship, I see this game as being the worst possible kind of trap. Winning should be expected, even at the Den against a solid Millwall team, and doing what's expected isn't normally all that big of a confidence booster. It would be nice of course, but it isn't as though things turned around dramatically after the Ipswich game (which was, if you'll recall, far too close for comfort.) And what does a win earn? Another game for this thin and fragile squad in a competition they're nearly certain not to win?
The upside is, at least in my (admittedly cynical) view, quite limited. But what about the downside? Unfortunately, that bit is not so limited. If failing to get the job done against the Bantams was enough to bring Ron Vlaar to the verge of tears, it's difficult to imagine that this squad's mental well being is in very good shape right now. And though Millwall is currently solidly mid-table in the Championship, they're far from a bad team and the Den is not an especially pleasant place to play as part of the opposition. And given Villa's frailty at the moment, it seems quite reasonable to think Millwall is a confident side headed into this game.
There's just not much good that can come of this game, unless the loss to Bradford shook Villa to life and they respond by tearing Millwall apart. That would be wonderful, but I'm not really holding my breath that it's going to play out that way. Clearly, I want Villa to win, and I hope those that believe a solid performance tomorrow could lead to a turning of the corner are correct. But ultimately, I'm just not that optimistic, and I'm having a really difficult time working up any enthusiasm for this game. The league is all that matters to me right now, and unless this game can have some kind of positive carryover effect then it's just not that important. Unfortunately, I think the likelihood that any lasting impact from this game is negative is far higher. This just isn't a good place to be right now, and this season really couldn't be over soon enough.
*No, Tuesday night against Bradford City doesn't count. If you think it does, I feel sorry for us both.
**This is an unfair characterization of what Lambert said. At the same time, being an Aston Villa fan is horrible right now and I don't really care if I'm being unfair to the club, so neener neener