Martin O’Neill’s focus will be drawn away tomorrow night from preparations for the weekend visit of in-form Bolton Wanderers and towards the swell of talent underneath his first team.
Once again academy director Bryan Jones, together with coaches Tony McAndrew and Gordon Cowans, have moulded an impressive unit.
Villa under-18s made it seven wins in succession as they saw off the challenge of MK Dons with goals from James Collins, Richard Blythe and Andreas Stieber.
Now O’Neill will be at Villa Park hoping to witness them march into the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup at the expense of much-fancied Arsenal.
The elevation of England youth defender Ciaran Clarke to the bench for the first team’s trip to Everton on Sunday went largely unnoticed, such was the hype surrounding Ashley Young’s performance and late winner.
But with Gabriel Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry central figures in the team for the past few seasons and Craig Gardner a permanent fixture on the fringes, Villa’s reliance on their academy has been clear for years.
Even Bolton will come to Villa Park on Saturday containing two shining lights of the past decade in Gary Cahill and Jlloyd Samuel.
Tomorrow’s fixture (7pm) will have supporters – who can enter the ground free of charge – focusing on the new kids on the block and probably none more so than 17-year-old Nathan Delfouneso who made such an impact on his first senior start against MSK Zilina last Thursday.
Delfouneso did not come off the bench at Goodison Park but is prepared to switch back from the intensity of the first team to the relative calm of the youth team.
“I’ve got Arsenal to think about now,” he said. “It’ll be a very tough game and hopefully I can do my bit to help us through.
“If I just play my game, then stepping back into the youth team won’t be a problem,” said the Tyseley-raised player.
Much is also expected of winger Marc Albrighton, midfielder Barry Bannan, striker Harry Forrester and defenders Nathan Baker and Shane Lowry.
As for tomorrow’s game, Villa will feel they have a more than decent chance of seeing off Arsenal in a competition won by Villa in 1972, 1980 and 2002 against Liverpool, Manchester City and an Everton side containing Wayne Rooney.
Villa were beaten finalists in both 1978 against Crystal Palace and 2004 when they were soundly beaten by Middlesbrough, but nevertheless they have undoubted pedigree.
Last season Villa made the semi-finals, only to lose out marginally to Chelsea, and coach McAndrew is looking for them to catch the imagination of the Villa public once again.
“Of course we’re looking forward to the match and it is important,” the former Middlesbrough and Chelsea midfielder said.
“It’s exhilarating for the lads but it’s important to channel that energy. Arsenal are a great team and it’ll be a fantastic match.
“But the team’s at their best with a level head, so it has to be important to focus.”
Meanwhile, the kick-off time for Villa’s Premier League clash with Chelsea on Saturday, February 21, has been changed to 12.45pm for TV coverage.
The game could be yet be moved to the following day if Villa are playing in the Uefa Cup on Thursday, February 19.
n?Stockport County face Gillingham tonight for the right to play Villa in the FA Cup third round next month.