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Aston Villa v Brighton and Hove Albion - Match Preview

It seems like an eternity since Frank Skinner paired the Albions number 22 ball with Aston Villa's number 17 ball in the draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup, but the biggest game of the decade is nearly upon us.

The inevitable ticket fiasco has been and passed ("we've sold more tickets than we have been allocated"; "Ban all ticket sales in home ends to BN postcodes") with a striking resemblance to something out of an episode of ChuckleVision, and this Saturday 6,500 Seagulls supporters will travel into Birmingham along with countless more in the home sections of Villa Park who haven't had their ordered cancelled.

Since the big boys came into the competition at the third round stage, there have been relatively few shocks - although two have been massive. Liverpool have been disposed of by Reading in an extra-time replay at Anfield, and Manchester United were on the end of a 1-0 defeat against Leeds (although if you are Micky Adams, it probably didn't come as a shock at all - no disrespect to Hereford, but they are THE Leeds United).

It doesn't provide much comfort to fans of the Seagulls who will be hoping to see Martin O'Neill's team disposed of in another great FA Cup surprise. But, there are a suprisingly large number of reasons to be optimistic about the trip into the black country. And here they are:

1) Villa are fighting on three fronts still
They are/were (delete as applicable after Wednesday's Carling Cup Semi with Blackburn) still involved in three competitions. A first Wembley appearance since 2000 is on the cards in the Carling Cup, and in order to get there they need to beat Blackburn - a task that should denote a full strength team. Then, on the Wednesday after our FA Cup meeting, they welcome Arsenal to Villa Park in a game that could have a massive bearing on their realistic Champions League hopes. Brighton and Hove Albion at home should be a formality that may tempt Martin O'Neill into fielding a weakened team, which in theory should still be too strong for us. Teams have been burnt by underestimating lower league opponents in the past though, and the psychological boost that the Seagulls would gain from knowing they are facing a second string could help them pull off an upset

2) We have a suprisingly good record against "Bigger Clubs"
In the past, we have gone to the likes of West Ham United, Leicester City, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace in league games and got victories that our status really did not justify. Throw in the FA Cup showings against Tottenham and West Ham (until the Carlos Tevez show kicked off), and we have never been embarrassed when facing a supposedly bigger club. The role of the underdog used to suit the Albion well, and that is very much what we will be at Villa Park

3) The Crowd
If the Albion players cannot get themselves fired up playing in Premiership surroundings, and more importantly in front of a bigger away following than watches them at Withdean, then they really should question why they are professional players. The boost that the traveling support can give our players works in tandem with the fickle Villa fans - they booed their team off at times last season despite looking the most likely to break the top four monopoly, so goodness knows how they will react if they find themselves being held or, heaven forbid, behind against little Brighton in their opponents cup final

4) We're on a good run
Mutter it quietly, but we are actually on a suprisingly good run. Unbeaten in the last four, with three wins on the bounce, all away from home. Our away record since Gus Poyet has come in is a stunning five wins out of seven games. The momentum is there, and with it comes confidence - something which could prove priceless going into this one

5) Our record against Villa is poor
Not a reason to be optimistic you would think. But records are made to be broken. We have played 19 times in the past, with Villa claiming 10 of those victories. 5 have ended in draws, which all you mathematicians out there will no doubt have already worked out means that we have won only 4. We have met each other in the FA Cup only once, way back in 1955, when a 2-2 draw at the Goldstone was followed by a 4-2 replay defeat at Villa Park. Lets be honest, we not going to have much chance to improve on our head-to-head with the Villains in the near future, so Saturday is an opportunity to do it

7) We beat Villa to become "Champions of England"
One of those four victories over Aston Villa came in the Charity Shield of 1910. Back in those days, this was not a game in which the champions and the FA Cup winners pratted about in a pretty meaningless pre-season friendly that ultimately ends in a penalty shoot out because neither team can be bothered. Oh no, 100 years ago it was the real deal. The Football League First Division Champions would meet the winners of the Southern League - with the winners earning the unofficial title of best team in the land. And so, in September 1910, the Southern League Champions Brighton and Hove Albion were shock 1-0 winners over Aston Villa to become the best team in England - 100 years on, it would be poetic justice for another shock

8) Baby Potts is attending
Fans of Crocs on Tour will have seen the mascot that has been in attendance at recent away games - a plastic baby doll entitled Baby Potts. Not a factor to have Mr O'Neill lying in bed awake at night you might think, but the baby has a phenomenal record - he has been to every away win this season, with the only game he has attended that hasn't seen us pick up the victory being Norwich away. And the good news - he will be at Villa Park on Saturday

Convinced? No, if I am honest, neither am I. The fact that a plastic baby doll acquired from a charity shop is a reason to be optimistic about victory against a side packed full of England internationals says everything really. Still, win, lose or draw, all those Albion fans lucky enough to have tickets should be in for a top day out. Don't forget to check out We Are Brighton for comprehensive coverage of the day after the game - come on you Seagulls!

Are you making the journey to Villa Park? What are you score predictions? Let us know ahead of the Albion's first venture into the FA Cup Fourth Round in years!

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