Football: Villa ready to show Turks respect: Trabzonspor have the firepower

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The Independent Online
AFTER the clouds of coloured smoke which greeted them in Milan, Aston Villa step into the Avni Aker Stadium at Trabzon tonight amid reports that the Turkish team's followers are in the habit of firing guns into the air.

Whatever their veracity, Villa have had warning shots aplenty before the first leg of their Uefa Cup second round tie.

The most pertinent came from Brian Whitehouse, Villa's chief scout, who has watched Trabzonspor twice. After their draw at Ankaraguku, he informed Ron Atkinson that Villa's opponents were 'probably as good as Inter'. The impression was confirmed by Sunday's 3-1 defeat of Denizlispor, which took them to within a point of the leaders, Besiktas.

Trabzonspor are unbeaten at home, and dispatched Dinamo Bucharest in the first round. Two of their players, Kemizkanoglun Ogun and Cikrikci Orhan, played in Turkey's 5-0 rout of Iceland last week. That result, along with the three draws Galatasaray have achieved against Manchester United over the last year, demonstrate that Turkish football is currently on a high.

Whitehouse's report will ensure that Villa show the appropriate respect, and having seen off Bergkamp, Bergomi, Pagliuca and company, they ought to account for Trabzonspor over two legs. Optimism is qualified because while Villa are capable of winning the League Cup at Wembley, or of overcoming the Uefa Cup holders, they appear uninspired by less glamorous fixtures.

The outcome this evening may hinge, therefore, on their ability to metamorphose once more from the side who have taken only one of the last 15 Premiership points available into a big-game team. The transformation will be eased greatly if Andy Townsend, who showed his best Villa form against Internazionale, is passed fit.

The Irish international, who counts as an 'assimilated' player, missed Saturday's drab draw with Norwich with a groin injury but has been given until this afternoon to recover. As for the three permitted 'foreigners', Mark Bosnich may give way to Nigel Spink in goal, narrowing the choice to Dean Saunders, Dwight Yorke, Paul McGrath and Steve Staunton. Nii Lampety is absent on duty with Ghana.

Some 50 Villa supporters have made the arduous trek, others perhaps having been put off by horror stories from English fans in the 'hell' of Istanbul and Izmir. However, at least one aspect of the Black Sea port is designed to make the visitors feel at home. Trabzonspor's colours, omnipresent in the city, are claret and blue.