Swansea v Villa: Lowton - My massive debt to Gary Speed
Villa's game at Swansea this afternoon will be a poignant occasion for those players who were involved in the fixture last season.
It was on the morning of the game at the Liberty Stadium in November 2011 that the football world was shocked to hear of Gary Speed's death.
Players and supporters observed a minute's silence which quickly turned into a minute's applause in memory of the Wales manager.
And although Matt Lowton wasn't a Villa player at the time, the sad news of Speed's passing affected him more deeply that most.
The 23-year-old right-back was Speed's team-mate at Sheffield United and was then coached by him.
"I was devastated when I heard Gary had died," said Lowton. "My mum rang me and told me to put on Sky Sports News. When I saw what had happened I fell back in my chair because I just couldn't believe it.
"A lot of people have helped me get to where I am but he did more than anyone. He spoke to me all the time and pushed me.
"Gary pushed very hard for me to play in his last season before he became a coach and he was fantastic with me. After every training session he would stay behind and practice crossing and heading with me.
"He persuaded the manager Kevin Blackwell to give me my chance. I made my debut against Cardiff City and then played a full game against Ipswich in the last match of the season.
"Even when I was sent off against Cardiff in the opening game of the following season, Kevin and Gary encouraged me. Unfortunately Kevin got sacked and then Gary became Wales manager midway through that season."
On a happier note, Lowton is looking forward to the Capital One Cup semi-final against Bradford City as he contemplates a possible return to Wembley just nine months after Sheffield United lost a penalty shoot-out to Huddersfield Town in the League One play-off final.
"It was unbelievable to play at Wembley," he said. "I know it's a cliché but it was a boyhood dream.
"I'd seen the stadium loads of times on television but to actually play there was incredible.
"I missed one of the penalties and I was lying on the pitch after the game. Chris Morgan, who was one of the coaches, came up to me and said: "Don't let it affect you." That was nice to hear.
"I would love to go back there and play ina major final. Trying to win a cup would be one step better than a play-off final. I can't really put into words how much it would mean to play there again.
"We have to think about the tough semi-final over two legs against Bradford City, first, though. And before that we have a very important league game against Swansea and the FA Cup clash with Ipswich."
Pick up match tickets for the FA Cup clash with Ipswich.
Go to full match coverage for Swansea 2 - 2 Aston Villa (1st January 2013) >
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