By Tom Powell
Friday 25 Apr 2008 12:55:14
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If last week’s game was important, then this weekend’s game is season defining. Three points separate Villa from this Sunday’s opponents Everton and the final UEFA Cup place. A win at Goodison Park will put Villa in pole position to snatch fifth place when a month ago their were doubts as to whether the Intertoto Cup was within reach. 

Martin O’Neill’s men go into Sunday’s battle on top of their game. Fifteen goals in three games, just the one conceded and smashing five past their fiercest rivals sees Villa bursting with confidence. The same can not be said of their opponents. Following a draw against Birmingham and a loss at home to Chelsea, Everton have gone from challenging for the Champions League to holding on to their UEFA Cup spot.

As with much of the season it is probable that O’Neill will stick with the same team that has stampeded its way over the Premiership’s strugglers. Craig Gardner is fit again but was unable to force his way into last week’s starting eleven. Shaun Maloney has this week been told he has a part to play in the season’s run in. O’Neill told, “What's happened is that we've changed it around a little in the past two or three games so we've got a bit more strength in the middle of the park. But Shaun can play a number of positions and he's basically just had a rest for the past two or three weeks.” Villa look set to continue with the midfield diamond that has brought so much success over the last few weeks. Stiliyan Petrov has made himself an integral part of that diamond and his contribution has not gone unnoticed by his manager. Speaking to the club’s official website, O’Neill said “I think the return to form of Stiliyan Petrov is not insignificant in the side’s improvement. He is playing a holding role for us, which he is doing admirably.”

David Moyes had been given two massive boosts ahead of this crunch clash. Midfielders Leon Osman and Mikel Arteta have every chance of being fit to make this Sunday’s eleven. Moyes told SkySports, “Mikel is still in Spain. We have been speaking with him regularly, and he will be back on Friday and hopefully will be available.” One man who will be missing though is Australian midfielder Tim Cahill, his metatarsal injury looks set to see him miss out the last three games. Cahill told “I hope to be back for pre-season, ready for Everton's first game of the campaign. It is going to be hard work but nothing is going to stop me coming back.”

In the lead up to the game Everton’s Lee Carsley has fired a warning shot to Villa. The thirty-four year old told the club’s official website, “If they are being honest they aren't looking forward to coming to Goodison because not many teams beat us at Goodison and not many teams do well against us, so I can't wait for them to come.” Villa on the other hand seem to be thinking more about next season as O’Neill spent the week warning teams off his star man Gareth Barry who has been frequently linked with a move to Anfield. O'Neill told BBC WM: “We're going to do everything possible to keep him at the football club. We're desperate for him to stay because he's a major part of it but I'm not surprised that loads of people are chasing him.”

This season’s corresponding fixture saw Villa pick up a comfortable 2-0 victory through John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor goals. In last seasons tussle at Goodison Park Chris Sutton scored his one and only Villa goal in a narrow 1-0 victory.

I predicted Villa would concede five goals in the last three games and score two, with two losses and a draw. How wrong I have been….and gladly so. If I’m honest I never really thought Villa would lose those games but my lack of faith was working. This week however Villa are surely underdogs and a loss would surprise no-one. For some no less than five goals will do at the moment I’m going for a much more realistic 3-1 loss with the hope I’m wrong again.


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