Football: Aston Villa gunning for FA Cup, Soccer Sevens double
- Updated: May 25, 2015
May 25, 2015: Aston Villa U-21 coach Gordon Cowans says his side will “do their utmost” to win this week’s HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens at Hong Kong Football Club, where Sunday’s knockout stage will be held the day after Tim Sherwood’s first team face Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
Villa’s season has turned around following Sherwood’s appointment in mid-February. The team have since won eight of their last 16 matches in the Premier League and FA Cup, while Jack Grealish – the Soccer Sevens’ top scorer in in 2013 and 2014 – has become a first-team regular and one of the league’s hottest prospects.
As the club target a weekend Cup double in Wembley and Hong Kong, Cowans is counting on the likes of left-back Lewis Kinsella and midfielder Riccardo Calder – who have both been part of the first-team squad this season – to help Villa win the Soccer Sevens for the first time since 2010.
“We definitely want to win the Cup again. We’re going out there to try and do our best, and we’ll do our utmost to get something out of the competition,” said Cowans, who said spirits at the club had lifted since the arrival of Sherwood, a former teammate at Blackburn Rovers.
“The difference since Tim has come into the club has been so positive. He has just lifted everybody and there’s a real positivity about the place. Everybody’s full of confidence, hence the reason why we’re getting the results we are.”
After last reaching the Soccer Sevens Cup final in 2012, Villa have twice won the second-tier Shield, but remain easily the event’s most successful side with five wins. Cowans’ side start their campaign on Saturday against Wellington Phoenix, HKFA U-18 and hosts Hong Kong Football Club in Group C.
Cowans – a lynchpin of the Villa sides that won the English league in 1981 and the European Cup in 1982 – has included both striker Jerell Sellars and Calder from the 2013 squad, while hard-running right-back Tom Leggett and attacker Harry McKirdy return from last year.
Goalkeeper Brad Watkins, Northern Irish midfielder Rory McHale, centre-backs Kodi Lyons-Foster and Niall Mason, and left winger Corey Taylor join Kinsella, 20, as tournament newcomers.
“Ricky and Lewis are certainly two players who could make a career for themselves, while Jerell is slightly built but very quick, bright on the ball, goes past people and is clinical with his finishing,” said Cowans, who has experience of the seven-a-side format as a player, having competed in the Masters Tournament.
“The Sevens rewards teams with players who can beat people in one-on-ones and we’ve got a few who have a bit of pace and can go past players. I’m not saying we’re going to come out and definitely win it, but we’ll certainly give it a go and do our best to get as far as we can. I know there are some good sides this time.”
Villa, West Ham, Stoke City and a Newcastle United side managed by Peter Beardsley, Cowans’ former England teammate, are the top four seeds. Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, 2013 winners Leicester City and Hong Kong champions Kitchee, the 2011 winners and last year’s runners-up, are also top contenders.
However, among the pro teams, Villa have the strongest tradition at the Soccer Sevens, which has played a part in the club’s development programme since 2002.
Grealish, Gabby Agbonlahor, Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clarke and Andreas Weimann are among Sherwood’s current first-team players who have competed at the Soccer Sevens. Gary Cahill, Craig Gardner, Liam Ridgewell, Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan and Nathan Delfouneso have also played for the club in the tournament.
“Over the years, Villa have done well to get players through to the first team and a lot of those players have been to the Soccer Sevens. Of this year’s squad, I’d like to think, given time, a couple of them might come through to the first team,” said Cowans, who played 10 times for England from 1983 to 1990.
“Obviously from our point of view, working at the Academy through the years, our job is to produce players. Jack [Grealish] was always going to come through the system with the ability he’s got and I think more players will come through now because Tim likes looking at the young players in training. He knows what quality we’ve got coming through.”
The tournament will kick off at 6.00pm on May 29 with 10 Masters group games. Entry is free on the Friday evening, while tickets for the weekend are priced at HK$160 per day or HK$300 for a two-day pass.
Group A: Newcastle United (ENG), Leicester City (ENG), BC Rangers (HKG), Singapore Cricket Club (SIN)
Group B: West Ham United (ENG), Kitchee (HKG), Shanghai SIPG (CHN), HKFC Captain’s Select (HKG)
Group C: Aston Villa (ENG), Wellington Phoenix (NZL), HKFA U-18 (HKG), Hong Kong Football Club (HKG)
Group D: Stoke City (ENG), Atletico Madrid (SPA), HKFA U-20 (HKG), Yau Yee League Select (HKG)
Group A: Wallsend Boys Club (ENG), USRC – BTS (HKG), Kitchee All Stars (HKG), KCC Veterans (HKG), HKFC Veterans (HKG)
Group B: Citibank All Stars (ENG), Nottingham Forest Mobsters (ENG), SCC Tigers (SIN), Discovery Bay (HKG), HKFC Chairman’s Select (HKG)
For tickets, visit: Cityline (www.cityline.com)
Source: HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens (www.hksoccersevens.com); Editing by SportAsia