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Conte must set the example


Agbonlahor: Cup can boost league hopes

Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor believes victory in Tuesday's Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Bradford could boost his side's Premier League survival hopes.

• Blog: Villa's best and worst in derby

The five-time winners of the competition find themselves walking the tightrope in more ways than one in Paul Lambert's first year in charge - their top-flight future is at stake and, more immediately, they are facing possible humiliation against League Two opposition.

Bradford City arrive in the frozen West Midlands with a two-goal lead from the first leg a fortnight ago but Agbonlahor - one of the survivors from when Villa last reached the final three seasons ago - believes his club can turn the tie around and then use it as a springboard to aim for safety.

The 26-year-old was back towards his spring-heeled best when scoring the second goal in Saturday's derby draw at West Brom and is relishing the crunch match against Bradford.

"We've got 90 minutes to get three goals to get through the tie," he said. "In the first leg, the conditions, the pitch, the way they suited them. We missed a lot of chances as well.

"If we can get that early goal, like we did against West Brom, everyone's confidence gets up.

"It will be a great atmosphere. Everyone has got flags for the game and if the fans can give us anything like the support they did against Blackburn (in the semi-final three years ago), then hopefully we can get the result. The atmosphere then was immense.

"It is not going to be easy. Bradford will be dangerous on the counter-attack and we will respect them. "Their fans were great in the first leg but I think they will be in for a shock with the way our fans will be and how loud they will be.

"We'll be coming out of the traps hungry and up for it. We know it is going to be a great atmosphere and hopefully the fans can be the 12th and 13th man and help us through.

"It is a big thing psychologically to be out of the drop zone ahead of the game. To start scoring a few goals, for the whole team, is big as well."

Villa were left with a hard-luck story to tell when they contested the 2010 final against Manchester United. Although they took an early lead, Nemanja Vidic escaped what might well have been a sending-off for a foul on Agbonlahor and Sir Alex Ferguson's side hit back to win 2-1.

With Martin O'Neill departing in the summer of that year, the club has spent most of their time since in relegation battles, notably under Alex McLeish last season and Paul Lambert this.

So Villa might find added motivation in what they see as unfinished business, namely the one hand they had on the cup against United.

"You want to make it right but we don't want to talk too much before the game," he added. "That's far away from our minds at the moment. "It also happened in the FA Cup against Chelsea (in the semi-final) when I should have had a penalty against Mikel. That's what happens. Refs miss things sometimes, that's football. We've got to put that behind us now.

"We know what we've got to do. If we show our attacking threat like against West Brom, we've got every chance.

"In the first leg, we had a few chances. Hopefully, we can put the chances away at home. We know if we play like we can, anything is possible."

Difficult as it is to try to concentrate on anything other their a semi-final salvation mission tonight, Villa are also consumed by the need to pick up league points quickly.

They briefly dropped into the relegation places by losing to Southampton in their last home game and are in danger of going down for the first time in 26 years.

"We've got some really important Premier League games we've got to look at," Agbonlahor said. "It is most important staying in the Premier League.

"If we can get a result against Bradford, it will be a good thing but the Premier League is definitely on our mind. And of course it would boost spirits for the league if we come through against Bradford.

"We have only ourselves to blame for not beating West Brom but we are out of the bottom three, which is a positive.

"In the first half, the whole team defended well. It was really promising and hopefully we can take that form into the Bradford game.

"That performance has been coming. With the way we've been playing, we've been unlucky not to get results."


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