The FourFourTwo Preview: Aston Villa vs Sunderland
T-minus 10 minutes until Manish and Claridge hit our screens.
The mood in the Midlands is a happier one, with five points from three matches helping to banish memories of back-to-back 2-0 home defeats to Everton and Spurs and lift Aston Villa to 12th in the table, five points clear of the drop zone.
ASTON VILLA FORM
- WBA 2-2 Villa (Prem)
- Villa 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- West Ham 0-0 Villa (Prem)
- Villa 0-2 Everton (Prem)
- Villa 0-2 Spurs (LC)
- Stoke 2-0 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 Man City (Prem)
- S'land 2-1 So'ton (LC)
- Hull 1-0 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 2-1 Newcastle (Prem)
That wasn't the case after just 11 minutes of Monday night's derby at The Hawthorns, however, with Shane Long's double handing the Baggies a commanding lead. Yet Villa roared back to ensure a share of the spoils through Karim El Ahmadi and Ashley Westwood, leading boss Paul Lambert to exclaim:
"I thought we were terrific the way we got going, really resolute. In the first half we were were just thinking we need to hang in until half-time. Second half they were outstanding."
The Scot also singled out former Crewe midfielder Westwood, whose 76th-minute strike levelled proceedings: "Ashley was excellent the whole night. Even in the first half I thought his passing was excellent.
"His goal was a terrific strike. He's got superb technique. He was worthy of that goal because I thought he was outstanding."
With Fabian Delph, Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor returning in Monday's draw, Villa can start looking towards the top half rather than over their shoulders. And Saturday's meeting with Sunderland will bring back fond memories of April's 6-1 humping.
Gus Poyet's topsy turvy start to his Sunderland tenure may have witnessed famous home victories over Newcastle and Manchester City, but away defeats at Hull and Stoke leave them rooted to the foot of the table with much work to do.
Wes Brown's dismissal at the Britannia Stadium may have been overturned, but Poyet has still called for his team to curb their aggressive streak if they are get anywhere fast, saying:
"We all make mistakes, and there's no explanation why. It happens in a second. But if you do it every week, you've got a problem."
The Sunderland boss had specific words of caution for Lee Cattermole, whose red card against Hull was his sixth during his time at the Stadium of Light: "When someone does something really, really stupid and it's repetitive, he doesn't have a chance with me. They need to be professional."
Poyet's six games in charge have seen three home wins and three away defeats, and the overall away record makes for even less pleasant reading, losing 11 of the last 13 league matches on the road.
Delph, Weimann and Agbonlahor may be back for Villa, but remaining in the treatment room are Joe Bennett, Gary Gardner, Charles N'Zogbia and Jores Okore. Antonio Luna is nearing a return from hamstring damage.
Kieren Westwood is Sunderland's only injury worry after the goalkeeper clashed with Hull's Paul McShane, while Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena are available again after serving suspensions.
Player to watch: Leandro Bacuna (Villa)
The Dutch full-back will be keen to make amends for his horror pass that gifted Long his second goal on Monday night, although he was involved in El Ahmadi's goal that got Villa back into the game at The Hawthorns.
Bacuna had been one of the standout players in the previous outing, a 2-0 home victory over Cardiff. The 22-year-old not only scored the opener with an exquisite free-kick but also made a game-high 10 ball recoveries for Paul Lambert's side and was the best tackler of the match, earning praise from his manager:
"Leo has really adapted. He's been very good since he's been in the side playing in numerous roles for us He's had that [free-kick] in his locker. He feels confident and if you're confident, things can happen."
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 6-1 S'land (Prem, Apr 13)
- S'land 0-1 Villa (Prem, Nov 12)
- Villa 0-0 S'land (Prem, Apr 12)
- S'land 2-2 Villa (Prem, Oct 11)
- Villa 0-1 S'land (Prem. Jan 11)
Poyet was linked with a trio of Midlands clubs, including Aston Villa, in May 2012 after Alex McLeish's tumultuous season in charge saw Villa avoid the drop by just two points.
Lambert's second match in charge of Norwich in 2009 ended in a 4-1 home defeat to Sunderland in the League Cup, but the Scot has enjoyed happier times against the Black Cats since.
He will be hoping to maintain his 100 per cent record against Sunderland as Villa boss after doing the double over the Black Cats last season, winning 1-0 at the Stadium of Light just over a year ago.
Facts and figures
- The clean sheet Aston Villa earned last time out at Villa Park against Cardiff ended a run of 16 Premier League home games without one.
More facts at FFT's Aston Villa vs Sunderland Stats Zone page
Tips and trends
- Aston Villa would have 9 points if their matches finished at half-time, only Norwich and Cardiff have worse first-half records.
- Sunderland have the fewest points on the road (1) and are the only side not to have won an away match in the Premier League this season, having lost 11 of their last 13 away fixtures.
- There have been at least 3 goals in 6 of Aston Villa’s previous 9 home matches against bottom-six teams, and in Sunderland's last 20 away games 15 have provided 3 or more goals.
Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Villa to build on the momentum from Monday's second-half fightback at West Brom and inflict more away misery on the Black Cats, although nowhere near as emphatically as last time. 2-1.