Sam wants good start to Villa trilogy

Rovers travel to Villa Park in the FA Cup third round on Saturday

in the first of three meetings with Martin O’Neill’s side over the

course of January. The second comes just three days later in the

first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at Ewood Park before the

return leg on January 20, with league fixtures against Manchester

City and Fulham squeezed in between. Allardyce is likely to field a

weakened side for the FA Cup match but is aware that a positive

result on Saturday will give the team a vital boost in confidence

ahead of the two-leg battle for a place at Wembley. “Certainly the

priority this month is the semi-final of the Carling Cup, there is

no danger about that,” Allardyce said. “To come this far with all

the effort, particularly with the outstanding victory against

Chelsea (in the quarter-final) – the top team in the country at the

moment – means we have got a hugely difficult tie against Aston

Villa in two semi-finals. “But before that we have got a difficult

tie against Villa in the (FA) Cup. “Tactically from the manager’s

point of view you have to be looking at it and saying ‘can we

psyche each other out and what can we do to best prepare our

players for these games?’. “That is what we will try to do on

Saturday and if we can get a bonus by coming away from Villa with a

result it will give us a lot of confidence going into the game on

Tuesday. “It’s a big few days for all the players and hopefully at

the end of it we will be on a roll, looking up and excited about

next playing Manchester City and then the return leg of the

semi-final.” Blackburn will already draw encouragement from their

2-1 win over Villa at Ewood Park in September, but O’Neill’s team

lost only one in 12 league games from there in a sequence which has

taken them into contention for a Champions League berth. They have

faltered again over the festive period with defeats against Arsenal

and Liverpool, but Allardyce believes that it was the result

against his side that will have had the greatest impact on

O’Neill’s players. “They weren’t very happy when we beat them,

because we were a side they expected to beat,” Allardyce said.

“When they lose to a top side like Liverpool, it’s a difficult

defeat to take but one that everybody knows could happen because

Liverpool have top-quality players. “So do Aston Villa, and we have

quality players, but not quite as good as theirs, so I think the

defeat that they suffered against us was more disappointing than

the defeat against Liverpool.” Allardyce was delighted to see

Franco Di Santo extend his loan deal from Chelsea this week through

to the end of the season and is hoping the young Argentinian – who

is now eligible for both domestic cup competitions – can start

adding goals to his eye-catching performances. “We are very

pleased,” Allardyce said. “There is Chelsea to be thankful for,

(manager) Carlo Ancelotti and his staff for allowing it to happen

and Franco himself, for telling Chelsea that he preferred to stay

and play with us. “I think that has been one of the key elements in

why we have extended the loan and he feels that he has enjoyed his

time here and has had games to play and develop. “We all want him

to continue in that way and the only thing that we hope for is that

he produces a few more goals. “I am very pleased with the

performances – if he can just turn one or two more chances into

goals then that means he will be even more successful in the back

half of the season for us than he has been in the first.”