Villa's talented youth ready to step up to plate, insists Bannan

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The Independent Football

The midfielder Barry Bannan believes it is "time to impress" for Aston Villa's young guns. Manager Alex McLeish sent out a youthful side to face Hereford in the Carling Cup on Tuesday and was rewarded with a 2-0 victory courtesy of late goals from Eric Lichaj and Nathan Delfouneso.

Bannan enjoyed a full 90 minutes of action and was particularly happy for Lichaj. He said: "I was delighted for Eric. He is one of my good mates and I've come through the ranks with him. Every time he plays for the first team he gives it everything he's got.

"He's improved, too, and that's no surprise because he's a hard worker. Eric puts everything into training and deserves everything he gets. Scoring the opening goal against Hereford topped off a great performance from him."

The American delighted the Villa fans after breaking his duck for the club by celebrating with the eye-catching "chicken noodle soup dance" – which stems from his time at the University of North Carolina – and laughed off the subsequent mockery which came his way. Lichaj explained: "I always said I would celebrate my first goal with the dance and I just had to do it.

"All the lads knew I did this stupid dance which is a big hit on the internet. I got a bit of stick after the match but it was all fun as scoring my first goal for Villa is the most enjoyable moment of my football career."

Bannan was also full of praise for the performances of up-and-coming strikers Delfouneso and Andreas Weimann. It was only after the two young strikers were drafted into the game that Villa scored their goals and Bannan said: "It is great to have players like them to come on late in the game.

"When Darren Bent, Emile Heskey and Gabby Agbonlahor are missing it is brilliant to have these lads to come into the side. They are chomping at the bit and this is brilliant for Villa."

Former Scotland manager McLeish was also suitably impressed with the form of Delfouneso and Weimann and said: "I expect them to be hammering on the door to get into the first team. They have the ability."

Down the M6 at Villa's Midlands neighbours, Jerome Thomas believes West Bromwich Albion have been unlucky this season and has pledged to help them score more goals now he has returned to match fitness.

The Baggies lost their opening two Premier League matches despite spirited performances against title-chasing Manchester United and Chelsea.

Thomas was forced to watch both games from the sidelines with a groin injury but returned to the fold in Tuesday night's Carling Cup tie at Bournemouth. The former Arsenal winger was one of the stand-out performers in a 4-1 win at Dean Court.

"I think what most people have made [of our games so far] is that we have been unlucky to come away without anything," he said. "But that is the nature of the Premier League, especially when you're playing the top teams.

"Hopefully me scoring and setting up goals is what I can take into the first team and into the League, which is what is going to get points on the table."

Thomas opened the scoring on the South Coast, ghosting down the left flank and finishing neatly in the seventh minute. Marc-Antoine Fortuné's double and a Simon Cox effort helped West Bromwich secure a convincing victory and progress to the third round.

Thomas was replaced at half-time seemingly with Sunday's match against Stoke in mind and the winger believes he will be fit to feature. "I have been supporting the lads as much as I can and now it is good to be back out there," he said. "It was nice to score. I wanted to start the game sharp and we all know how hard these games can be, especially if you don't start right. So it was important we took the game to them and it was nice to get the early goal. It was a comfortable win in the end." He added: "I feel ready to get back in the side, especially with an extra day's training this week with the game being on Sunday.

The result ended manager Roy Hodgson's Carling Cup hoodoo, having only previously won a single match in the competition since 1997. Albion, by comparison, have faired much better and reached the quarter-final stage last season.

While Thomas admitted achieving a similar feat this term would be nice, he was philosophical about the competition's importance.

"Being realistic, it is not [huge] in the grand scheme of things," he said. "Staying in the Premier League is the No 1 priority as it was last season and is this season. But, especially with the squad we've got, it is important to get more players game time – ie today me, [Graham] Dorrans, Cox, and Fortuné got two good goals.

"The back four did well with the new signings coming in so we've probably got a good squad for it and it is definitely good to get as far as we can."

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