Premier League | Villa Park | Sun 23 Mar | 4pm
The superest of Super Sundays.
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Stoke 3-1 West Ham (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Man City 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
This weekend’s primetime Premier League slot sees 10th take on 11th in a battle between two teams fighting it out to finish the season in, err, 10th.
Both sides are locked on 34 points, a comfortable nine clear of the drop zone but also nine adrift of ninth-placed Newcastle.
Securing a top-10 finish is aim of the game, then, and Villa are in the box seat with a superior goal difference and game in hand.
Geoff Cameron remains confident, though, providing Stoke can improve on a wretched away record that has seen the Potters win none of their last 13 Premier League away games and fail to score in six of the previous nine road trips.
"We have had some good performances, but not been able to put the ball in the back of the net for the three points,” he said. “We have the ability to get into the top 10 and, who knows, we might yet be able to get ninth or eighth."
Each of Stoke’s last seven wins in all competitions have come at the Britannia, although recent performances on their travels have picked up, with draws at Norwich and Southampton coming either side of a narrow 1-0 loss at Manchester City.
Forty miles down the road at Villa, back-to-back home wins over Norwich and Chelsea have allayed the doom and gloom caused by a four-match winless run that left Lambert’s charges peering over their shoulders. Last weekend’s match-winner Fabian Delph has been playing down speculation regarding an England call-up, while Nathan Baker has lauded the impact of fellow defender Ron Vlaar on his development in the Midlands. All very cheery.
But it’s back to the nitty gritty of point-scoring on Sunday, with Gabriel Agbonlahor targeting the magical 40 tally as soon as possible.
Villa have not won three successive home games in the Premier League since October 2007 and victories over Stoke don’t tend to come too easily; just one has been recorded in the last eight meetings with the Potters.
But home fans can take comfort in the knowledge that Stoke are yet to win a Premier League game at Villa Park, drawing four of their five previous top-flight tussles, and haven't triumphed at Villa since March 1988.
Similarly, Stoke’s Robert Huth is sidelined for the rest of the campaign with a knacked knee. Erik Pieters lasted just 14 minutes of last weekend’s win over West Ham, but the defender has been given the all-clear following a scan on his foot. Stephen Ireland is unavailable due to the terms of his transfer from Villa.
Player to watch: Fabian Delph (Aston Villa)
Lambert believes former Leeds starlet Delph can play at the highest level if he continues to deliver for Villa, having shone in last week’s win over Chelsea. The 24-year-old’s extravagant flick capped an all-action display in which he fired in 3 efforts at goal, was successful with all 4 of his take-ons and made 8 ball recoveries.
“There's massive potential there to be a really top player and if he keeps his feet on the ground, keeps learning, keeps doing what he's doing then we'll see where he goes,” said his manager.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 2-1 Villa (Prem, Dec 13)
- Stoke 1-3 Villa (Prem, Apr 13)
- Villa 0-0 Stoke (Prem, Dec 12)
- Villa 1-1 Stoke (Prem, Apr 12)
- Stoke 0-0 Villa (Prem, Dec 11)
Lambert labelled the win over Chelsea as the best of his two-year Villa Park tenure, and having been afforded time by US owner Randy Lerner, the Scot is slowly but surely moving the former European champions in the right direction. “For a young team that has been put together over the last 18 months, it was an excellent result. We have energy to burn but there is also goals in this side,” he said.
The 44-year-old should count himself fortunate that former chairman ‘Deadly’ Doug Ellis is not at the helm, according to former gaffer ‘Big’ Ron Atkinson, who told the Birmingham Mail:
“I think if Deadly was still in charge of Villa he would have had an itchy trigger finger by now with Lambert. Twenty years ago I was sacked six months after we’d won the League Cup.”
Hughes will hope the Coates family continue to provide their backing for the foreseeable future as the Welshman persists with the Potters’ post-Pulis transformation. The fruits of his labours were highlighted last week as Stoke took their number of passes for the season up to 8,674, more than in any of their previous five Premier League campaigns with eight games to spare. The Staffordshire side still know how to the boss the aerial battle, though, with no other team able to match their 61% success rate in 2013/14.
Facts and figures
- This fixture has been drawn in 4 of the past 5 seasons.
- Villa have drawn the first half in 8 of their last 11 home matches.
- Stoke have drawn 7 of 12 trips to middle-third sides since the start of last season (W0 D7 L5).
- Stoke have lost 0-1 in 10 of their 34 away matches since the start of last season.
Best Bet: Half Time Draw @ 2.15
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Villa keep the feelgood factor flowing. 2-1, leaving Stoke still with just one away win all season.