Aston Villa return to Premier league action midweek to face a Middlesbrough side reeling from their shock defeat at the hands of Cardiff City courtesy of a Peter Whittingham wonder-goal (nice one Pete!) and a somewhat simple clean sheet by former Villa scapegoat Peter Enckleman (nice one Encks!)
It’s another full preview, with express written consent of J.P.Fear, from Vital Villa!
Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill has told of his excitement as his team look set to end the season fighting for a European place. O’Neill, who is a stickler for putting down anyone’s chances of anything through fear of being wrong, has finally spoken with obvious enthusiasm to avfc.co.uk:
“The fans are excited by us at the minute and so am I. If you can’t get excited by the effort and the ability of the team at the moment, what’s the point in supporting a football club?”
“Take the Fulham game out of the equation and it’s been a remarkably good run where the players have deserved every point they’ve got – maybe one or two more besides.”
Meanwhile, it appears obvious that Zat Knight will be the man to step in for the injured Curtis Davies. O’Neill has no problems with this, and believes that his team will be equally as strong without the former West Brom centre-back
“I think Zat Knight was very unlucky not to be in the starting line-up when he got suspended. I thought he’d been doing very well.
“Will this weaken the side? Not at all. Zat will be excellent. I’ve no qualms putting him in whatsoever. That would be quite wrong. I actually think he’s improved.”
On the player side of things, Nigel Reo-Coker believes that the next two games will have the biggest effect on the season. Following the ‘Boro game the Villans will come up against FA Cup Semi-Finalists Portsmouth, and a familiar face for Villa fans in Milan Baros, who’s awful attempt at a dive gave Pompey an un-deserved penalty, and Tomasz Kuszczak the chance for an early bath.
Villa’s own ‘Soulja Boy’ spoke to the official website:
“We have a very big game tomorrow, but then this is a pretty big week for us. We play Middlesbrough and then three days later Portsmouth.
“We need six points from these two games ideally, if we are to chase our dream of playing in the Champions League next season.
“We have to treat Middlesbrough like any other game though and we mustn’t let the pressure get to us. It’s down to us to play our best and show how badly we want to win the game.”
On the Middlesbrough side of things, boss and former Villa defender Gareth Southgate believes that his team need to bounce back from their FA Cup exit in style against the Villans to restore a sense of pride as he told the Boro official site:
“We have to go to Villa and get some pride back. We have got some big league games coming up, we have to respond.”
“It’s going to be a tough challenge, we have to respond. Every player will want to get back out there and play.
“After a game like that all the players were in the dressing room scratching their heads, they couldn’t explain why they performed as they did.”
I guess your team just were not up for the cup Gareth, sorry!
The Middlesbrough players have been somewhat quiet this week. A shame really as you’d expect them to at the very least come out with the “we were not good enough” speech, or potentially locate some balls to come out with an apology to those who paid good money to see their side dumped out of the cup by a lower league team.
AVFC Claret & Blues Team News:
With Curtis Davies rupturing his Achillies, it appears that the chap that kept him out of the team to start with, ex-Fulham defender Zat Knight will now deputise for the rest of the season.
Olof Mellberg and Nigel Reo-Coker should now be fully fit for the match, remains to be seen as to whether the ‘Im-off-away’ Mellberg will return to his regular right-back slot in place of Craig Gardner.
A strange article on the official site suggests that there may be a recall for Silly-Stan Petrov who has been “rested” for his own good recently (read: dropped.)
If anyone sees either Wayne Routledge or Moustapha Salifou on the pitch during a first team game for Villa, please drop me a line via the Vital Villa forums. Utterly useless (so far) signings that as push comes to shove will suffer even more as O’Neill will not wish to “risk” new players in a stable side….
…what a load of bull poo.
Player to watch: #11 Gabriel Agbonlahor
Apparently the complete lack of goals from Gabby (last goal came just after Christmas) is no worry for a chap that is taking up a striker role.
In terms of goals per game played, Marlon Harewood is doing better despite largely featuring as a substitute.
Gabby may be all-round ok, but in the run in we now need our strikers to go out and get some goals just in the off chance that the net busting defence/midfield go quiet.
Come on Speedy Agbonzales…prove me wrong.
Middlesbrough FA Cup Bottlers Team News:
I’d expect the odd change from Boro tomorrow evening as they look to work out “what went wrong” against Cardiff City.
Jeremie Aliadiere sits out game 4 of his 4 game suspension. Apparently a petulant slap earned him a 3 game ban, then for appealing he got an extra one. Alves may start, possibly.
Player to watch: Alfonso Alves
Will he become a good player? He scored goals in Holland! Well how good is Holland? Who knows! Could Harewood play there? No idea.
Alves cost Middlesbrough approximately £7million more than the Hare and so far hasn’t looked any better, apart from forcing Encks into a great save at the weekend.
The chap could be a threat; then again he could be our best player!
Not the Match Facts:
The referee is Mr Steve Bennett from Orpington.
The last time he officiated a Villa game was the 1-1 draw away to Sunderland way back in December.
This weekend is quite a step up for Mr Bennet, who last took charge of a match in the Conference North between Blyth Spartans and Redditch.
A side on a major high and chasing 4th against a side dumped out of a cup competition by lower league opposition, travelling away to a difficult ground and in a season where they now have nothing to play for.
3-1 to the Villa, Agbonlahor, Carew and Harewood the scorers.
Next up Villa make the trek down to the South Coast to face the Baggies FA Cup opposition Portsmouth FC on Saturday
You’ll love Friday’s preview music.