Allardyce determined to turn tide

Blackburn manager keen to upset odds against Villa and reach Carling Cup final
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The Independent Football

Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn Rovers manager, will again settle for wasting bottles of champagne and another ruined suit if it means Rovers are in the Carling Cup final.

Six years ago Allardyce conjured an improbable semi-final result with Bolton over Aston Villa, winning an astonishing first leg 5-2 at the Reebok Stadium before enduring an onslaught in the return at Villa Park.

Bolton lost 2-0 on the night, but ultimately reached the final 5-4 on aggregate, which led to Allardyce being soaked in the dressing room by his players as they uncorked the bubbly.

Following his drenching it led to one of Allardyce's more colourful quotes as he complained the champagne was sprayed all over his suit rather than being poured down his oesophagus.

Six years on and Allardyce returns to Villa Park facing a far more arduous task as Blackburn head into the second leg of this season's semi-final trailing 1-0 to Martin O'Neill's side.

Asked if he would be happy to have another suit ruined, Allardyce quipped: "Of course I would. I'll settle for anything the lads fancy doing to me within reason if we get through to the final."

Allardyce, though, appreciates that after a run of six away matches without a win, including a 3-1 FA Cup third-round defeat to Villa at the start of the month, the odds are long on a Rovers recovery. However, Sunday's 2-0 Barclays Premier League home win over Fulham has at least raised spirits, ending a winless streak of 10 games in all competitions.

"The lads are all now looking forward to this game after being given a massive boost of confidence with the Fulham result," added Allardyce. "We've had a look at Villa's last two games, our game last Thursday and their 0-0 draw with West Ham on Sunday, and we've drawn up a game-plan. We know we need to get the first goal.

"That will put a few nerves into Aston Villa and, hopefully, we can go on from there and achieve one of the biggest results since this club was last in the Carling Cup final in 2002.

"Let's hope we're all dancing and singing on the way back. But if we take the pressure off Aston Villa and let them score first then it's going to be hugely difficult to come back from a 2-0 deficit. We know we're clearly the underdogs, and our away form suggests we're not going to get anything from the game.

"But in a semi-final of a Carling Cup strange things can happen, and if we score at the right time we can get through. The Premier League is secondary; only getting through to the final means anything to us at this moment in time."

Allardyce will even happily settle for reaching the final via the prospect of penalties, a scenario that occurred in the 2000 FA Cup semi-final with Aston Villa.

Although Bolton under Allardyce lost the shoot-out on that occasion, Allardyce added: "I'd have to say, looking at the situation, I'd be very happy if it went to penalties at Villa Park. Getting through in normal or extra time is what we will try to do, but if you said to me 'will you take penalties now?' I'd have to say 'yes'."

El-Hadji Diouf and Morten Gamst Pedersen are back in contention for the tie, although Lars Jacobsen (thigh), Vince Grella (thigh) and Jason Roberts (knee) all remain sidelined. Diouf has completed a three-match ban sustained following his red card in the FA Cup defeat at Villa, while Pedersen has shaken off a knee injury which forced him to miss the win over Fulham.

Aston Villa striker John Carew is a doubtful starter. The Norway international suffered a knee injury during training on Monday and is battling to be fit. Midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker is still sidelined with the ankle problem which caused him to miss Sunday's goalless home draw with West Ham. Manager O'Neill is again likely to operate with his No2 goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, which has been his policy in the majority of cup fixtures this season.