Aston Villa v Chelsea: James Collins eyes revenge after Stamford Bridge humiliation
"I don't think he was as good as some of the ones you see on the telly but it was good fun,'' recalled James Collins. Unfortunately for Villa, the magic swiftly disappeared. First there was the controversial card trick from Phil Dowd, not even brandishing yellow or red at Nemanja Vidic for hauling down Gabriel Agbonlahor in the Carling Cup final. Then there was the subsequent hypnotising of Collins and his fellow defenders by Chelsea in the Premier League. No magician is being called before today's return to the scene of Dowd's mistake as Villa face an FA Cup semi-final against opponents who so recently humiliated them. Given Villa's misfortunes, the conjurer would probably have pulled a hat out of a white rabbit. The motivating will all come from O'Neill, still smarting over Dowd, and from within players determined to settle a rather large score 7-1. "We'll be looking to take revenge now,'' said Collins. An honest pro on and off the field, the Welsh centre-half was so embarrassed by the rout at Stamford Bridge that he apologised via his micro-messaging Twitter site. "It did give the fans a chance to see how I was feeling,'' said Collins. "It's all right taking all the hype and congratulations, but when you play bad you've got to be the first to admit it. I'm big enough and ugly enough to admit it. I've got family around me who tell me when I have played bad my mum more than anyone. I don't think she actually talked to me. I don't think she answered the phone she was so disappointed.'' Lines of communication with his mother, Kay, have since reopened but Collins has closed his tweet treats. Pity. Such candour was admirable and he might have wanted to react to John Terry's comments about Villa tiring during games. Collins and his team-mates discussed the Chelsea captain's critique and are clearly still annoyed. "We thought it was quite a strange comment,'' said Collins. "We are as fit as most teams in the league and we certainly feel we are going into the last half of games. Comments like that always give you motivation to prove people wrong.'' Villa are not short of a cause going in to today's toughest of assignments. "The 7-1 was a low point in most of the lads' careers but the cup final still hurts deep down,'' said Collins. "The pain is the same for both.'' Having met O'Neill in Villa's hotel the morning after the Carling heartache, this observer was left in little doubt as to the depth of anger stirred by Dowd's error and the subsequent loss to Manchester United. O'Neill craves a trophy to give something tangible to all the rich promise of his reign, to grip something that can be raised aloft in front of passionate but occasionally impatient fans and an ambitious owner in Randy Lerner. Encountered again on Thursday at Bodymoor Heath, O'Neill's temper was no longer at boiling point but resentment still simmered. "When your career is finished you would look back and think that was a very big moment where a straightforward decision has gone against you in a big manner,'' he said. "United would have been down to 10 men and chasing the game because we would have been a goal in front. "Wanting to participate in the FA Cup final is as big an incentive as anything, not worrying about whether you're getting revenge. Chelsea stand in our way and they are a very, very fine side but we're capable of winning and that's not bravado. "We have one or two players who have been expressing themselves well. James Milner has trained and is feeling a lot better [after a slight Achilles problem] and if he plays anything like he played in the Carling Cup final I would be delighted. Ashley [Young] is in fine form and this is a great opportunity for him to show his talents.'' O'Neill knows what a trophy would mean to players and supporters alike. "It establishes something. It's not just getting to the final, it's the lifting of the trophy with the effect it has on a club. I've seen it in the past as manager [with Leicester City and Celtic] and player [with Nottingham Forest] with the lift it gives players who can consider themselves winners of a competition. "Psychologically, the lift it gives the club for future big matches is so important. That's why any club with decent aspirations should be trying to win. Ask David Moyes last year. He got to the final against Chelsea, got beaten. "I heard him say halfway through this season, even when he was having a tough time and points were important, that he would have swapped them for winning the Cup just to show they [Everton] have it on the sideboard. Villa have not won it since 1957 and contested one other final in that time [the 2000 loss to Chelsea].'' Villa's fans were brilliant during the Carling Cup final, reminding everybody of the club's potential. "I had some people over from Ireland for the first time and they were astonished at the volume of support we received. That also can give you a big lift. Much as you can be selfish about it and want to win for yourself and the players it would be marvellous for those people who are the lifeblood of the club.'' Victory would be useful when O'Neill sits down with Lerner to establish the transfer budget for next season. "Mr Lerner is a Villa fan. Winning a trophy is particularly difficult but the progress the club is making I think he is pleased with. I'm in it to win it. A club of this size should be contesting more semi-finals and finals.'' Nobody needs to tell O'Neill, Collins and company the size of the semi-final challenge with Didier Drogba starting and Nicolas Anelka lying in wait. "Anelka's contribution to the [7-1] game was probably more than anyone's even though he didn't score,'' said Collins. "His movement, touch and pace is fantastic whereas Drogba obviously has the lot. He's big and strong and can threaten you in behind.'' Collins, an uncomplicated centre-half enjoying a good season, is hardly the superstitious type but his manager is. O'Neill was coy about his superstitions "you'd laugh into oblivion'' but he has changed the hotel, scrapped the magician though continued wearing his lucky No 31 top and has his watch 10 minutes fast. "I know that Don Revie used to keep the same suit when Leeds went on prolonged runs and then when you lose you're thinking about changing things,'' he admitted. The Carling suits have been consigned to the back of the wardrobe. O'Neill's men yearn for FA Cup final ones, for another tailor, not another magician.
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