It’s been a torrid season for Paul Lambert and his struggling Aston Villa side. Misfiring in the league and now every much involved in a relegation dogfight, their season looked to be imploding but for one shining light – their Capitol One cup run. Facing league Two Bradford in the semi finals, Villa fans could be excused for thinking about a trip to Wembley for their club for the first time since the Birmingham club walked away with the League cup in 1996. If Lambert could deliver silverware in his first season in charge, then perhaps owner Randy Lerner would afford him more time to rectify his mistakes in the league. But the nightmare for Villa continued as Bradford secured their place in the final, despite a valid attempt at a resurrection by Lambert’s men on Tuesday night. Ultimately it was their first leg performance that let Villa down and left them with too much to recover from. Trailing 3-1 going into Tuesday’s game, Villa knew that two goals and a clean sheet would put them through and end Bradford’s fairytale run.
But it wasn’t to be as Villa yet again conceded a costly goal that they couldn’t recover from. Despite winning the match 2-1, Bradford was left to celebrate reaching their first final since 1939. They also managed to pour salt to the wound by become the first League Two side to ever reach a final, an embarrassing statistic that will haunt Aston Villa for a long time. Bradford should be congratulated as their path to the final has not been easy, beating two other Premiership sides, Wigan and Arsenal along the way. Manager Phil Parkinson has called the achievement “the biggest moment in the clubs history” and one that ”will take some doing for anyone to do this again”. With Swansea beating Chelsea in the other semi final, Bradford fans must believe they have a better chance of winning the cup, now that they face the welsh side instead of the current Champions League holders. No disrespect to Swansea though who deserve their place after a fantastic run and will themselves be looking to put their names in the record books by winning the trophy.
So what now for Paul Lambert? With the transfer window close to closing and his side still languishing in the bottom three of the Premier League, one thing he doesn’t have is time. Lerner has been supportive and continues to back the former Celtic, Borussia Dortmund and Scotland midfielder, but if the slump continues, he will need to act to prevent Villa from near certain relegation. In a game ruled by money, relegation is a scary prospect for any club but for Villa even more so. As one of the only teams to have never been relegated from the Premiership, the club has a high wage bill that would have to be dramatically slashed if they drop down a division, with the sale of key assets like Christian Benteke and Charles N’Zogbia likely to be the way to do that. Lambert has started to plan for the future by investing in youth players but with a view to them playing in the Premier League, not in the competitive Championship. Granted Newcastle benefited overall from relegation some season ago, allowing them to restructure the club from the ground up and move towards a more stable baseline, but it’s unlikely that Lerner will see relegation as the best reason to kick off this process.
For Bradford, their season is improving all the time. Not only are they playing well in the league and looking towards potential promotion to League One but now they have a cup final to prepare for. It will likely be the highlight of many of their players careers with most looking forward to just playing in the game, not necessarily winning it. As huge underdogs, they will have a task ahead of them to turn over Swansea and come out victorious after ninety minutes but it also takes all the pressure off of the Bantams. Parkinson is likely to relish the underdog tag and with the pressure lifted, they may just take that final step towards cup success and proved yet another shock by beating Swansea. It will be a difficult day for Paul Lambert as Bradford and Swansea walk out onto the pitch at Wembley next month, knowing fair well that this was a tournament there for the taking for Villa. Whether Lambert Is still the boss of Villa come the final is up to Lerner but it doesn’t look good at the moment for the Scotsman.