No-one need remind Martin O’Neill that some silverware is due at Aston Villa.

When you think about the money that has been invested in the club over the years it’s hard to believe that the fans have had to wait quite so long.

So I’m delighted Martin’s side is in with a shout of winning their first domestic trophy since 1996 in Sunday’s Carling Cup Final.

I’ve always enjoyed the League Cup because it was the first major honour that I won in England, back in 1977, with Aston Villa.

As any player and fan knows, getting to the final is one thing – winning is an entirely different matter.

In Manchester United, Villa are up against one of the best clubs in Europe (not to mention the world) so it will be a tough ask.

Villa are very strong defensively – we’ve seen ample proof of that this season – so United will have to take the game to them which in turn will leave them vulnerable to a counter-attack.

But having beaten the Premier League champions at Old Trafford and drawn with them at home, Villa can go into the game with confidence – and if they can win it would be a huge achievement.

Martin has been at Villa Park for a while now – incredibly it will be four years in August – so it’s not as though he has taken the club to this point very, very quickly.

It’s been a gradual transition and now the most difficult step so far faces him.

To take the club forward, Martin either has to win a trophy or break into the top four and ensure that his side maintains those levels.

To do so could cost an awful lot of money but the incentive is there. It’s been a wonderful season for Villa so far with regard to cup runs and a trophy would cap everything off very nicely.

Yes, they’ve had the rub of the green with regards to who they’ve drawn at times – I think most Villa fans would concede that.

But that’s what you need if you want a good cup run. You need to be lucky and find a couple of draws that go your way and then cash in.

As it stands Martin has a pretty good reputation as a manager but in England it’s a reputation built on the way he has managed smaller clubs – Wycombe, for example, and Leicester with whom he won the League Cup. That was an incredible achievement.

Yes, he impressed at Celtic but you are either first or second in Glasgow so it’s difficult to judge just how good his achievements in Scotland were.

The fact that Martin’s had over three good years at Villa in which time they’ve hovered around between fifth and eighth in the league reflects well on him but Sunday is an opportunity to see exactly where he’s at.

There are those around the game who will say he’s proven he’s a good manager but only up to a certain level, that managing a top-four club with a host of big-name players is different.

It’s noticeable that he’s never gone and bought the highest-profile players; generally he’s put his faith in young talent or players that he knows and trusts.

So if the club is ambitious about kicking on from this season I’ll be interested to see if Martin does chase big-name players even if they might give him a bit of trouble and whether he can handle them.

Part of Martin’s success this season has stemmed from a consistent team selection and I can’t see him changing too much for Sunday’s game.

I’d be stunned if we didn’t see James Milner and Stiliyan Petrov (if fit) in the middle of midfield and Stewart Downing and Ashley Young patrolling the wide areas.

I suspect the reason Martin left Emile Heskey out in midweek was to keep him fresh so he, rather than John Carew, can play up front alongside Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Martin could surprise everybody by selecting a fifth player in midfield but I don’t think he’s got one that he believes gives him a better option than 4-4-2.

If I was him, though, I would make a change in goal. As well as Brad Guzan has served Villa up to this point in the competition I’d say ‘thanks, you’ve got some good experience this season, but I want to win this final and the best way of doing that is by including my best goalkeeper and that’s Brad Friedel’.

Sometimes you have to make big and hard decisions as a football manager and you have to upset players. Martin may feel that Guzan is good enough to do the job but for me he has to go with his No 1.

The same goes for United; if I was Sir Alex Ferguson, Edwin van der Sar would be between the posts on Sunday.

The fact that Edwin has had two long injury-enforced absences actually makes it an easier decision to play him over Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster because he should be fresh and ready to go.

Sir Alex is already assured of leaving United as the most decorated manager in history; now he wants to win title after title to build a legacy that no-one can ever match.

He has never been in the business of going into a final and not wanting to win it and this one will be no different, so Villa beware.

I’d be surprised if there were many kids in the United team come Sunday. Sir Alex left out Michael Carrick for the midweek victory over West Ham and sat Darren Fletcher on the bench, which suggests to me he’s saving them for Wembley.

I think Villa can expect to come up against an extremely strong Manchester United side, led of course by an irrepressible Wayne Rooney.

I wrote in last week’s column that you’d be hard pushed at present to find a striker in better form than Wayne and he’s only enhanced that view over the last seven days.

I’ve always said that Wayne is at his best when he’s trying to poach goals inside the box. When he is asked to play wide on the left and in a withdrawn role he doesn’t get to show his true ability and threat.

That’s been highlighted this season; it’s the first one where he’s consistently played higher up the pitch and it has brought him his best ever goal tally. I don’t think that is a coincidence but a reflection of how difficult he is to deal with when he’s playing in defenders’ faces.

I’ve no doubt that’s given Fabio Capello food for thought for the World Cup in the sense that it’s clear he can play Wayne on his own up front if he sees fit.

The England boss will also be reassured by Wayne’s maturity, which has flourished since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.

I think Wayne would be the first to concede that he learnt a lot from Ronaldo but when the winger was at the club Wayne played a supporting role. He was happy to let Ronaldo have all the plaudits, all the glory while he did what was best for the team.

After Ronaldo went it was time for him to step forward into the limelight; he’s taken that chance and he’s loving every minute of it.

I’ve heard some people raving about Wayne’s partnership with Nani but the way I see it Nani has just had a couple of good games; if you go down that road you can talk about Wayne’s partnership with Antonio Valencia, who has contributed to two or three of his more recent goals, or Dimitar Berbatov.

The truth is that Wayne is such a good player that he can play with anybody and will keep scoring goals; the question is whether United’s unsettled, patched-up defence can keep them out.

A bad season injury-wise took another turn for the worse this week when Rio Ferdinand was ruled out of the Final with a back injury.

The fact they are still competing in the Champions League, Premier League and Carling Cup is testament to how well United have done despite their injury problems.

Throwing everything together, I think both teams will score on Sunday. I’m not saying it will be a 5-4 thriller but I doubt this one will end up goalless after extra-time.

Villa are very strong defensively – we’ve seen ample proof of that this season – so United will have to take the game to them which in turn will leave them vulnerable to a counter-attack.

So I think we can look forward to a fairly open game rather than one that’s tight and tense and nervy and I’m really looking forward to it.

Sunday’s Carling Cup Final is the first of NINE live Finals on Sky Sports this season.

Catch it live on Sky Sports HD1 & SS1 from 2.45pm on Sunday and follow all of the build-up from 7am on the morning on Sky Sports News.

From surging Spireites to the latest Notts County twist… Peter Beagrie talks Football League….

Guillem Balague assesses the futures of Manuel Pellegrini, Manolo Jimenez and Thierry Henry….

Wayne Rooney’s headers, bookings for tall players and staying up with the fewest wins… it’s Martin Tyler….

Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp has warned Roman Pavlyuchenko that he cannot rest on his laurels.

Wayne Bridge is looking forward to the prospect of competing against John Terry, according to Man City team-mate Shay Given.

A herculean performance from Fulham against Shakhtar Donetsk booked their passage to the last 16 of the Europa League.

Liverpool had to come from behind to earn a 3-1 victory away to Unirea Urziceni.

Petr Cech will be out for up to a month after tearing a calf muscle in Chelsea’s midweek defeat to Inter Milan.

Wayne there’s a will…

Ed Chamberlin tips up Sunday’s Carling Cup Final and starts his Cheltenham Festival Watch.

Skysports.com considers the best transfer options ahead of the weekend’s fixtures.

Skysports.com looks at the career of Wayne Bridge after he made himself unavailable for England.

Read the article on Sky Sports

A date with destiny

No-one need remind Martin O’Neill that some silverware is due at Aston Villa.

When you think about the money that has been invested in the club over the years it’s hard to believe that the fans have had to wait quite so long.

So I’m delighted Martin’s side is in with a shout of winning their first domestic trophy since 1996 in Sunday’s Carling Cup Final.

I’ve always enjoyed the League Cup because it was the first major honour that I won in England, back in 1977, with Aston Villa.

As any player and fan knows, getting to the final is one thing – winning is an entirely different matter.

In Manchester United, Villa are up against one of the best clubs in Europe (not to mention the world) so it will be a tough ask.

Villa are very strong defensively – we’ve seen ample proof of that this season – so United will have to take the game to them which in turn will leave them vulnerable to a counter-attack.

But having beaten the Premier League champions at Old Trafford and drawn with them at home, Villa can go into the game with confidence – and if they can win it would be a huge achievement.

Martin has been at Villa Park for a while now – incredibly it will be four years in August – so it’s not as though he has taken the club to this point very, very quickly.

It’s been a gradual transition and now the most difficult step so far faces him.

To take the club forward, Martin either has to win a trophy or break into the top four and ensure that his side maintains those levels.

To do so could cost an awful lot of money but the incentive is there. It’s been a wonderful season for Villa so far with regard to cup runs and a trophy would cap everything off very nicely.

Yes, they’ve had the rub of the green with regards to who they’ve drawn at times – I think most Villa fans would concede that.

But that’s what you need if you want a good cup run. You need to be lucky and find a couple of draws that go your way and then cash in.

As it stands Martin has a pretty good reputation as a manager but in England it’s a reputation built on the way he has managed smaller clubs – Wycombe, for example, and Leicester with whom he won the League Cup. That was an incredible achievement.

Yes, he impressed at Celtic but you are either first or second in Glasgow so it’s difficult to judge just how good his achievements in Scotland were.

The fact that Martin’s had over three good years at Villa in which time they’ve hovered around between fifth and eighth in the league reflects well on him but Sunday is an opportunity to see exactly where he’s at.

There are those around the game who will say he’s proven he’s a good manager but only up to a certain level, that managing a top-four club with a host of big-name players is different.

It’s noticeable that he’s never gone and bought the highest-profile players; generally he’s put his faith in young talent or players that he knows and trusts.

So if the club is ambitious about kicking on from this season I’ll be interested to see if Martin does chase big-name players even if they might give him a bit of trouble and whether he can handle them.

Part of Martin’s success this season has stemmed from a consistent team selection and I can’t see him changing too much for Sunday’s game.

I’d be stunned if we didn’t see James Milner and Stiliyan Petrov (if fit) in the middle of midfield and Stewart Downing and Ashley Young patrolling the wide areas.

I suspect the reason Martin left Emile Heskey out in midweek was to keep him fresh so he, rather than John Carew, can play up front alongside Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Martin could surprise everybody by selecting a fifth player in midfield but I don’t think he’s got one that he believes gives him a better option than 4-4-2.

If I was him, though, I would make a change in goal. As well as Brad Guzan has served Villa up to this point in the competition I’d say ‘thanks, you’ve got some good experience this season, but I want to win this final and the best way of doing that is by including my best goalkeeper and that’s Brad Friedel’.

Sometimes you have to make big and hard decisions as a football manager and you have to upset players. Martin may feel that Guzan is good enough to do the job but for me he has to go with his No 1.

The same goes for United; if I was Sir Alex Ferguson, Edwin van der Sar would be between the posts on Sunday.

The fact that Edwin has had two long injury-enforced absences actually makes it an easier decision to play him over Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster because he should be fresh and ready to go.

Sir Alex is already assured of leaving United as the most decorated manager in history; now he wants to win title after title to build a legacy that no-one can ever match.

He has never been in the business of going into a final and not wanting to win it and this one will be no different, so Villa beware.

I’d be surprised if there were many kids in the United team come Sunday. Sir Alex left out Michael Carrick for the midweek victory over West Ham and sat Darren Fletcher on the bench, which suggests to me he’s saving them for Wembley.

I think Villa can expect to come up against an extremely strong Manchester United side, led of course by an irrepressible Wayne Rooney.

I wrote in last week’s column that you’d be hard pushed at present to find a striker in better form than Wayne and he’s only enhanced that view over the last seven days.

I’ve always said that Wayne is at his best when he’s trying to poach goals inside the box. When he is asked to play wide on the left and in a withdrawn role he doesn’t get to show his true ability and threat.

That’s been highlighted this season; it’s the first one where he’s consistently played higher up the pitch and it has brought him his best ever goal tally. I don’t think that is a coincidence but a reflection of how difficult he is to deal with when he’s playing in defenders’ faces.

I’ve no doubt that’s given Fabio Capello food for thought for the World Cup in the sense that it’s clear he can play Wayne on his own up front if he sees fit.

The England boss will also be reassured by Wayne’s maturity, which has flourished since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.

I think Wayne would be the first to concede that he learnt a lot from Ronaldo but when the winger was at the club Wayne played a supporting role. He was happy to let Ronaldo have all the plaudits, all the glory while he did what was best for the team.

After Ronaldo went it was time for him to step forward into the limelight; he’s taken that chance and he’s loving every minute of it.

I’ve heard some people raving about Wayne’s partnership with Nani but the way I see it Nani has just had a couple of good games; if you go down that road you can talk about Wayne’s partnership with Antonio Valencia, who has contributed to two or three of his more recent goals, or Dimitar Berbatov.

The truth is that Wayne is such a good player that he can play with anybody and will keep scoring goals; the question is whether United’s unsettled, patched-up defence can keep them out.

A bad season injury-wise took another turn for the worse this week when Rio Ferdinand was ruled out of the Final with a back injury.

The fact they are still competing in the Champions League, Premier League and Carling Cup is testament to how well United have done despite their injury problems.

Throwing everything together, I think both teams will score on Sunday. I’m not saying it will be a 5-4 thriller but I doubt this one will end up goalless after extra-time.

Villa are very strong defensively – we’ve seen ample proof of that this season – so United will have to take the game to them which in turn will leave them vulnerable to a counter-attack.

So I think we can look forward to a fairly open game rather than one that’s tight and tense and nervy and I’m really looking forward to it.

Sunday’s Carling Cup Final is the first of NINE live Finals on Sky Sports this season.

Catch it live on Sky Sports HD1 & SS1 from 2.45pm on Sunday and follow all of the build-up from 7am on the morning on Sky Sports News.

From surging Spireites to the latest Notts County twist… Peter Beagrie talks Football League….

Guillem Balague assesses the futures of Manuel Pellegrini, Manolo Jimenez and Thierry Henry….

Wayne Rooney’s headers, bookings for tall players and staying up with the fewest wins… it’s Martin Tyler….

Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp has warned Roman Pavlyuchenko that he cannot rest on his laurels.

Wayne Bridge is looking forward to the prospect of competing against John Terry, according to Man City team-mate Shay Given.

A herculean performance from Fulham against Shakhtar Donetsk booked their passage to the last 16 of the Europa League.

Liverpool had to come from behind to earn a 3-1 victory away to Unirea Urziceni.

Petr Cech will be out for up to a month after tearing a calf muscle in Chelsea’s midweek defeat to Inter Milan.

Wayne there’s a will…

Ed Chamberlin tips up Sunday’s Carling Cup Final and starts his Cheltenham Festival Watch.

Skysports.com considers the best transfer options ahead of the weekend’s fixtures.

Skysports.com looks at the career of Wayne Bridge after he made himself unavailable for England.

Read the article on Sky Sports

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