Premier League | Villa Park | Sat 8 Feb | 3pm
A veritable feast of claret, blue and white (if not football).
The Villa end, home or away, is an exciting place to be at the moment. Both teams have scored in each of Aston Villa’s last five matches, and in that time they’ve held Liverpool in front of the Kop (not literally), gone achingly close to upsetting Arsenal and come back from 2-0 down to edge semi-geographical pseudo-rivals West Bromwich Albion in a ridiculous seven-goal thriller. Even in their defeat to Everton last week, the Villains led until the final 15 minutes, and ultimately went down to a magnificent free-kick late in the match.
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Everton 2-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 4–3 WBA (Prem)
- Liverpool 2–2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1–2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1–2 Sheff Utd (FAC)
WEST HAM FORM
- West Ham 2-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Chelsea 0-0 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 0–3 Man City
- West Ham 1–3 Newcastle (Prem)
- Cardiff 0–2 West Ham (Prem)
Paul Lambert’s charges haven’t quite pulled out of the 11-team relegation scrap, being only five points above the drop zone yet (somehow) sitting in the top half of the table. In fact, 10th-placed Villa are as close to rock bottom as they are to ninth spot.
They do, however, look likely to survive. A highly winnable game here is followed by fixtures against a struggling Cardiff, an imploding Newcastle and a meandering Norwich. Villa could, perhaps should, be safe by the Ides of March. And you should beware the Ides of March.
Things are a little trickier in east London. Fortunes appear to be turning for West Ham, a backs-glued-to-the-wall draw at Chelsea and a victory over an out-of-sorts Swansea banishing the lows from losing seven matches in nine. However, that good win was marred by Andy Carroll’s rush of blood to Chico Flores’ head.
The decision looked harsh, but harsh or not, he’ll be sorely missed after renewing his partnership with partner-in-crime and former housemate Kevin Nolan, providing the midfielder with two assists. Nolan has had a poor season by all accounts (well, all bar Big Sam’s), and he’s clearly been missing Carroll’s camaraderie and knock-downs.
But for this match at least, the chicken-dancer will have to do without his chum. It’s time for Marco Borriello to step up on debut, or for Carlton Cole to continue his Renaissance (with apologies to Leonardo da Vinci). It’s not like anybody else is going to score.
Are you ready? This is a long’un.
West Ham are without Carroll (controversially), Joey O’Brien (regretfully) and Joe Cole (inevitably), with suspension, a dislocated shoulder and a groin strain respectively. Ricardo Vaz Te is a doubt due to a lack of match fitness, having not graced the first team since October, and Mohamed Diame is having his gash inspected. The Hammers are considering legal action over the decision to reject Carroll’s red card appeal, but until then, we’re all set up for Borriello’s debut.
Villa have fitness doubts over Ron Vlaar (hamstring), Chris Herd (also hamstring) and Joe Bennett (back – or not, as the case may be). Jores Okore is a long term-absentee; Libor Kozak’s right leg won’t be making another appearance this season. But on the plus side, Gabriel Agbonlahor is set to return, Charles N’Zogbia – The Man Without A Squad Number – is on the mend and hey, Grant Holt’s available!
Player to watch: Marco Borriello (West Ham)
The last time these two met, West Ham played without a striker. This time, they still find themselves without Carroll, but Borriellio should start. The 31-year-old has had a nomadic career, representing nine Italian clubs – six of them on loan – before finally jetting into England. But he can score goals, saving Genoa from relegation last season with a handy dozen. Can he do the same for the Irons?
His one strike for Roma this term, the only goal in a win over Chievo that took the capital club’s 100% record into a 10th match, showed his threat in the box. He completed just 9 passes in 90 minutes, admittedly creating 2 chances, but got his head onto Alessandro Florenzi’s cross when it mattered. Indeed, he won 3 of his 4 aerial duels in the opposition box. It doesn’t matter if he remains inactive for much of the game; Borriello must be ready to show his predatory instinct when West Ham need him to.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- W Ham 0-0 Villa (Prem, Nov 13)
- Villa 2-1 W Ham (Prem, Feb 13)
- W Ham 1-0 Villa (Prem, Aug 12)
- W Ham 1-2 Villa (Prem, Apr 11)
- Villa 3-0 W Ham (Prem, Aug 10)
Lambert is close to signing a new contract that will keep him at Villa Park for another three years. Well, not just Villa Park. That would essentially be house arrest.
It’s a sign that Villans owner Randy Lerner is keen to stand by his man after much managerial turnaround in the last few years. Lambert hasn’t exactly pulled up trees in his first season and a half but positive signs are there, and both he and the club would surely benefit from a promise of stability.
Sam Allardyce has said that he needs his players to “work that little bit harder” if they’re to avoid the drop, but has praised a defence that has kept 11 clean sheets. The problem is at the other end.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Villa have picked up just 11 points at home this season – compared to 16 on the road – as they’ve conceded first in 9/12 home games.
- Villa’s last 5 home matches against bottom-half teams have all been level at half-time.
- 4 of Villa’s 5 home games this season against current bottom-half sides have had fewer than 3 goals.
- West Ham have not won back-to-back matches since the start of last season – losing 11 of 15 games following a win.
- 5 of West Ham’s last 7 trips to middle-third teams have had no more than 1 goal.
- West Ham’s away games have averaged fewer goals than any other side this season (1.92 GPG).
Best Bet: Under 1.5 Goals @ 3.55
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A low-scoring draw. We’ll go for 1-1.