• Bradford v Aston Villa, Capital One Cup

Cup run gives Given reason to keep pushing on

ESPN staff
January 8, 2013
Can the fairytale continue for Bradford? © PA Photos

Shay Given is relishing Aston Villa's twin pursuit of a Wembley place as it has given him something to remember a difficult season by.

Given has been a virtual bystander in the club's Premier League survival battle and questions have been raised about his future in the west Midlands, but he says that his full part in a Capital One Cup journey, which continues at the semi-final stage at Bradford on Tuesday night, has given him a much-needed fillip.

"I have played in the last three or four rounds (of the cups) and hopefully I have done enough to play at Bradford," he said. "It's difficult when you don't play and. You can only keep reminding the manager that there's life in you and plenty of years ahead.

"These cup games have been good for me. I knew early in the week I would be playing against Ipswich and it gives you something to work for. This is a huge game....I hope I have a chance. It's a carrot to keep working hard and pushing Brad [Guzan]. He has played well and it's a tough one for the manager but he has gone with Brad and it has been difficult for me this season.

"Working hard then not playing can be soul-destroying on a match day. I'm not used to it. I can't say I'm happy to stay on the bench because I'm not."

Given has played in three of the four games Villa have played in this season's Capital One Cup, as well as in Saturday's FA Cup victory over Ipswich.

Ironically, Guzan was the preferred man in the competition throughout 2009-10, only to suffer the heartbreak of being replaced by Brad Friedel for the Wembley final against Manchester United.

Now the American is wondering whether he might face disappointment in different circumstances at the hands of a 36-year-old who admits he has had a couple of pep-talks from the manager this season.

"I have not looked too much long-term," Given said of his Villa Park future. "We will see what happens in the next few weeks. We're one step away from a Wembley final. The manager has had me in the office a couple of times and been supportive....there are no complaints on that front.

"Sometimes, you have bad days. It's hard to put into words... it's difficult to keep going sometimes."

Tuesday's semi-final first leg takes Given on a nostalgic journey - and he is expecting it to be a rousing occasion.

"It's going to be a red-hot atmosphere," he said. "I had my first professional trial with Bradford at 15. It was the first stadium I went to when I left home. Dean Richards, who is no longer with us, was the leader of the under-17 and under-18 groups and we went on tour to Germany. Frank Stapleton was the manager but I went to Celtic in the end. I went to a few more clubs after Bradford for a trial.

"If we take them lightly in these games, we'll be punished. Arsenal in the last round had their full-strength team out and they lost."

Christian Benteke is Aston Villa's joint-top scorer in the Capital One Cup this season © PA Photos

Villa boss Paul Lambert has remained grateful through a trying first season at the club that his goalkeeper department is high-class.

Having selected Guzan for every league game since the draw at Newcastle at the start of September, he appears to have decided who he sees as his No. 1, but he said: "The two of them are playing unbelievable at the minute.

"Brad has been excellent in the League and Shay has been different class in the cup. Even on Saturday, Shay... the two saves he made were incredible.

"I won't be the first and I won't be the last to say that he's a world-class goalkeeper. His shot-stopping is incredible. I wouldn't swap the two of them for any pair in the Premier League, not the way they are. This club is really fortunate to have two world-class goalkeepers."

Bradford player to watch: Nahki Wells, perhaps inspired by the occasion, was a consistent threat to Arsenal when Phil Parkinson's men completed the upset of the tournament. The former Dandy Town Hornets hitman would love to take that form into this contest - and Parkinson would love it too.

Aston Villa player to watch: It would make sense to focus on Given, but after Arsenal's struggles at Valley Parade in the previous round it is scoring goals that Villa need to be preoccupied with, not necessarily conceding them. As such the onus again falls on Christian Benteke, who may relish the physical challenge against lower league opposition. Of course, with Darren Bent now seemingly available (for cup games at least), Lambert actually has a few options to go with in this one.

Betting: Considering the likely raucous atmosphere pushing the home team on, Bradford to be winning at half-time, but losing by the final whistle, is surely worth a little flutter at 20/1 with bet365.

Prediction: 1-2.

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