Villa can heal wounds vs. Hull
Nothing dampens the enthusiasm in the early weeks of the new season more than an immediate exit from a cup competition to lower-league opposition. Unfortunately for Aston Villa such defeat is nothing new. Leyton Orient merely become the latest club to have inflicted an embarrassing cup exit on Villa in the past three seasons; before the Londoners were Bradford, Millwall, Sheffield United. It's hardly an exclusive membership.
As with all defeats of this nature, the result will burn for a few days, but Villa have a good opportunity to close the first month of the season in an encouraging position. Hull are the visitors to Villa Park on Sunday, and victory in the game would mean manager Paul Lambert's team will conclude August with seven points from a possible nine, and be unbeaten in the opening three games of the campaign. That represents a strong start, undoubtedly.
Winning a game means scoring at least one goal, though, and if any conclusions can be drawn from three consecutive matches so far in 2014-15, it's that Villa are struggling to disturb the back of the net. Yes, Christian Benteke is apparently poised for a return at some point during September or October, with Libor Kozak a little further behind, but the fear is that Villa could lose serious ground in the league table if Lambert simply waits for the two to return. Or if none of the club's other strikers seize the chance to step up.
Villa have scored once in three games, with only Andreas Weimann successfully converting. It's a poor return and chances haven't exactly been created in abundance, either. The theory that Darren Bent, given a fresh start at the club, could take on the chief goal-scoring duties was put to the test against Orient, and the striker didn't do himself any favours.
Bent had two very presentable openings, though neither were exactly sitters. His first effort was struck well enough from a tight angle, but found the goalkeeper's legs, while his second was from a similar position later in the game. His finish was rather reckless though, striking it too high. Even so, this is a player re-adjusting to being an active member of the Villa squad, and it was a refreshing change to a see a striker actually getting into goal-scoring positions.
In the absence of an incoming striker, it's probably time for Lambert to double up. Weimann joined Bent for the final half-hour of the Orient match, and a front two should at least increase Villa's attacking threat.
Weimann must be desperate for a run of games in his preferred role as a centre-forward instead of flogging himself by endlessly running the wide midfield channels. It was the Austrian who scored twice against Hull in this fixture last season, clearly enjoying a rare start as an out-and-out striker.
The Tigers are a difficult side to break down defensively, deploying three central defenders and covering wing-backs: don't expect a high-scoring affair. Without the suspended James Chester, Hull won't be at full strength at the back, however, and it remains to be seen how much Thursday night's Europa League match against Belgian club Lokeren will have taken out of Steve Bruce's squad. Any weariness should be exploited. If there's a best possible time to meet Hull, it's the fixture immediately after European competition.
Lambert will hope to have Ron Vlaar and Aly Cissokho, both left out against Orient because of minor knocks, available again. And although the result against the League One opponent was ultimately disappointing, the manager will have learned a little more about other members of his squad. Primarily, that Bent is not yet as sharp as he needs to be if he's going to continue to score goals at the highest level, and that Joe Cole, who showed some bright touches but ran out of steam, is not fit enough for 90 minutes.
Also, Lambert will have learned that Jack Grealish, who made his first start for the club in the cup tie, is a special talent. He is that one player who sends a frisson of excitement and expectation around the stadium whenever he's in possession. Grealish was just about Villa's most impressive player on the night and, if anyone is pushing for a start against Hull as a result of their midweek performance, it's him.
On the downside, it was also made reasonably clear that Matt Lowton is outside the first team picture presently, as he was not even in the 18-man squad against Orient, while Jores Okore's continued and puzzling absence was explained away by Lambert: the Danish defender has suffered a minor knee injury and may return in an U21 fixture soon. The long wait to see him back in a Villa shirt in the Premier League goes on.
So while the 1-0 defeat to Orient was yet another disastrous cup scoreline, the wounds will heal that bit quicker if three more Premier League points are secured on Sunday.
Kevin Hughes covered Premier League football at Match magazine and was later deputy editor of Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @KevHughesie.