Burton v Aston Villa: Dean Smith ponders debut for Ollie Watkins
Villa boss Dean Smith is weighing up whether to play record signing Ollie Watkins from the start of tonight’s Carabao Cup clash with Burton.
Having been without a Premier League fixture on the season’s opening weekend, Villa finally get their 2020/21 campaign under way in rather unorthodox fashion with a second-round tie away to the League One Brewers.
Watkins, who joined last week in a £28million deal from Brentford, made his first appearance in a Villa shirt last weekend, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 friendly win over Manchester United.
Smith fielded a strong XI against the Red Devils and with the Premier League opener against Sheffield United just six days away, the team at the Pirelli Stadium is likely to see several changes.
Yet Watkins played only sparingly for Brentford during pre-season and is likely to feature at some stage, while Smith is expected to name a particularly strong bench.
Villa were runners-up in last season’s competition and the head coach is keen on another decent run. The winners of tonight’s tie will travel to either Bristol City or Northampton Town in next week’s third round.
“As I’ve said many times before, this is a competition we take seriously,” said Smith. “We got to the final last season and were beaten narrowly by Manchester City. It is a competition we Villa have a great tradition in and we want to continue that.
“It will be slightly strange starting (the season) in the cup. We have had some pre-season games that have got us ready for it.
“It is an important game because we want a positive start and a good performance to take into the Sheffield United.
“Jake Buxton has gone into Burton and will have ambitions of causing his first cup upset. Hopefully we can put in a really professional performance and stop that.”
Tonight’s match is the fourth time in five seasons Villa have visited the Pirelli Stadium and the second successive trip for a second-round Carabao Cup tie.
The previous encounter two years ago was a night to forget for Steve Bruce, with the 1-0 defeat prompting the first outpouring of supporter dissent toward the then Villa manager, who less than six weeks later was out of a job.
Liam Boyce scored the only goal of the tie for Burton while Albert Adomah missed a last-minute penalty for Villa.
The Brewers’ victory sparked a run to the semi-finals of the competition where they were eventually knocked out by Manchester City.
“We know from playing Villa in the past, it’s took us far in the competition and we know a good cup run can build momentum in the league, it really can,” said Burton skipper John Brayford.
“It’s not one of these competitions where people think it doesn’t make any difference, every game people are playing for their shirt at the end of the day.
“It’s another game that we will go into in high spirits as we know we played well in patches against Fleetwood, but we know we need to do better at other things which I’m sure we’ll work on.”
Burton will be without John-Joe O’Toole following his red card in their 2-1 defeat at Fleetwood on Saturday.
New signing Charles Vernam missed that match through injury, but is likely to be in contention. Reece Hutchinson is a fitness doubt, but Ryan Edwards and Lucas Akins have recovered from knocks.