FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on Wednesday night’s televised EFL Cup action from Colchester.
Colchester v Aston Villa | Wednesday 9th August 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
The Sky Sports cameras head to the West Homes Community Stadium on Wednesday night, anticipating a potential upset when Colchester welcome Aston Villa for a League Cup first round tie.
Villa were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition at this stage last season by League Two outfit Luton Town and Steve Bruce’s boys will be keen to avoid further embarrassment. The five-time League Cup winners are in a better place now but even so, represent poor value at 4/7 (William Hill) to progress in 90 minutes.
Gabby Agbonlahor gave the visitors a 1-0 advantage against Hull after only seven minutes in their opener on Saturday and although Villa created several good opportunities to add to that tally, they were made to pay for their profligate finishing.
Hull grew into the game and despite fielding a threadbare squad, found a leveller and took a share of the spoils at Villa Park, much to the frustration of Bruce.
League Cup not a priority for Villa
Bruce is likely to shuffle his pack for the midweek match and should mean a full debut for on-loan Tottenham midfielder Josh Onomah, whilst Julian Green is also being tipped for a starting berth. it would be fair to say, League Cup success isn’t a priority at the Second City club.
So to presume the guests will saunter to success seems a little far-fetched. Sure, defensively the club has looked a lot more robust in recent times but Villa bagged just four away triumphs (W4-D6-L15) during 2016/17 as a whole and their rotten road record in cup competitions is also off-putting.
The Villans have failed to taste victory in five years worth of cup football on their travels, losing six of their last seven (W0-D1-L6) games as cup guests since 2012. The only exception was a 1-1 draw at League Two side Wycombe in the FA Cup.
A tricky test for the Championship club
Colchester (6/1 Bet365) certainly do provide a tricky test for the visitors, even if they’ve not progressed past this stage of the competition since 2010. Indeed, the U’s have only reached the second round twice in 12 years and were stuffed 4-0 by Brighton just 12 months ago.
In truth, head coach John McGreal was still finding his feet in August 2016 having taken charge of his first full management gig in the summer. The Essex side had shipped 99 goals during a League One relegation campaign and few fancied ColU to make any impact on the top-seven.
After an inconsistent start, Colchester found their groove and even showed automatic promoting form bar a dreadful run of results between mid-September and mid-November. In the end, a damaging series of injuries hit McGreal’s men hard and the U’s concluded the campaign just one point off the play-off places having switched to a wing-back system.
The club saw leading scorer Chris Porter and Player of the Year George Elokobi move on during the summer, leaving fans frustrated. Pundits too have lazily written off their impressive efforts to suggest they’re in a weaker position than this time last season, which feels misguided.
The additions of Mikael Mandron, Kyel Ried, Ryan Jackson and Cole Kpekawa should be good enough to slot seamlessly into the side whilst the forthcoming return of Kurtis Guthrie and a number of other key players means Colchester should be ready to rumble sooner than later.
ColU ready to rumble
The U’s went deservedly down 3-1 at Accrington at the weekend with defensive toils again a concern. Last term the hosts leaked more goals than any of their top-half rivals but when welcoming teams to their Essex base, performances often improved drastically.
Colchester’s past 15 competitive outings at the West Homes Community Stadium have returned (W11-D2-L2) with the home side averaging 2.07 goals per-game during that sample. Overall, the U’s notched 43 goals in 23 home league fixtures under McGreal, losing on only five occasions.
Of course, Wednesday will prove a major step-up in class but McGreal will have learnt his lessons from Saturday – particularly starting talented attacker Drey Wright in an unfamiliar left wing-back role – so I’d fully expect a significant improvement in performance level.
The home side are far too big at 6/1 (Bet365) and they’re well worth a quid of anyone’s money at that price whilst the 6/4 on the U's with a +0.5 Asian Handicap start should definitely appeal – we're paid out if Villa fail to win in 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, the 24/23 (188BET) on Both Teams To Score is generous enough to take – BTTS banked in five of seven first round ties where League Two teams hosted Championship sides 12 months ago.