Villa V Sunderland - Match Preview
By Tom Powell
Friday 21 Mar 2008 13:07:32
Browse all Aston Villa FansOnline articles
 

On Sunday 24th February everything was looking good down at Villa Park. Villa had just beaten Reading 2-1 away and were hot on the heels of the two Merseyside clubs with the dream of UEFA Cup football, and possibly even Champions League football still alive. With Manchester United and Chelsea still in the FA Cup, sixth place seemed likely to see Villa into Europe. How things change...three games later, no wins, sixth place and only an Intertoto position to play for. And it will be a battle to even get that! Villa’s season needs salvaging...

Possibly the perfect time to take on a side yet to win away in the Premier League and fighting to stay in the top flight. Sunderland travel to Villa Park just one place and two points above the drop zone whilst Martin O’Neill’s men have the chance to leapfrog the team that defeated them last weekend, back into sixth place. Villa are defending a six game unbeaten home run as they have not tasted defeat since December’s 3-1 loss to Portsmouth. 

O’Neill faces similar selection issues to last weekend as he looks to notch up a much needed victory. Olof Mellberg will be one player not in the sixteen as he is suspended following his red card against Portsmouth last weekend. Fortunately, stand in right-back Craig Gardner looks set to return from the back injury that forced him out of last weekends match. O’Neill told www.teamtalk.com, “He was really sore on Friday but he is okay. With a bit of luck he'll be training again on Wednesday.” A part from this change, O’Neill may well stick with the same side as he has done through much of the season.  

Despite his side’s poor form O’Neill has spoken of his men’s resilience and determination to get the season back on track. He told skysports.com, “We've got to show real resilience, and I know this is an over-used word in the game, but we've got to show real character. This is where we've really got to show it. It was doubly disappointing because we lost (on Saturday) and Portsmouth went above us by a point. We've got to catch up again and my own belief is we will. It's really disappointing because we have the ability in the side and we're capable of doing it.”  

Sunderland put in a valiant performance last weekend as they lost out narrowly to title chasing Chelsea at the Stadium of Light. Roy Keane will definitely be without Ross Wallace who is suffering with a knee injury whilst Anthony Stokes and Dickson Etuhu are also rated doubtful for Saturday’s clash. Keane will have Carlos Edwards and Roy O’Donavan back in contention this weekend as the Black Cats continue their push towards safety. Right-back Phil Bardsley looks set to return to Villa Park where he spent half a season on loan last term; whilst former Villa target Craig Gordon will be between the posts for the Mackems.

Just like his opposite manager Keane has spoken of his side’s determination to succeed. He told www.bbc.co.uk, “There seems to be a lot more intensity about us," he told BBC Radio Newcastle. We tackled well and played good football. If the players keep playing like that they will get the rewards.” 

The reverse fixture this season saw Villa escape with a point after Danny Collins’ late header was ruled out after the referee spotted an infringement that enraged Roy Keane and the Sunderland faithful. Shaun Maloney’s free-kick grabbed Villa an undeserved point but they will be looking for all three this weekend. 

Dark clouds have gathered over Villa Park the last few weeks as Villa’s season appears to have turned sour. A positive result may see a ray of sunshine peak through the clouds in the shape of three points. With Portsmouth facing a difficult trip to White Hart Lane Saturday is a chance to regain sixth spot and keep alive Villa’s Intertoto Cup dream. Personally, with Everton yet to travel to Anfield and the Emirates, I for one see the UEFA Cup as still a real possibility and the road to Europe begins with three points this weekend.

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