Norwich City v Aston Villa: Neil demands victory in battle against relegation
Norwich City manager Alex Neil has underlined the importance of Monday's home game against Aston Villa in the battle against Premier League relegation.
The Canaries started the season in fine fashion, losing just two of their opening seven fixtures, but have since been struggling for consistency and find themselves fighting against the drop back to the Championship.
Neil believes 40 points will be enough to stay up, though, and feels they will be on track if they take all three against Villa.
Norwich have collected 17 points from 18 games so far and sit 17th in the table, but come into Monday's game on the back of a 3-0 defeat at Tottenham on Saturday.
"Teams in the bottom half of the table are crucial for us," Neil told BBC Sport.
"The next one against Aston Villa - we know the importance of it. If we beat Villa, we will be at 20 points halfway through and everyone talks about reaching the 40-point mark."
However, Neil will probably have to make do without the services of Matt Jarvis (knee) and Andre Wisdom (hamstring) due to injury problems.
Norwich have netted just four goals in their last five Premier League games at Carrow Road, three of which have been scored from corners, and will be hoping top scorer Nathan Redmond can add to his tally on Monday. The 21-year-old has netted four goals so far this league campaign, one more than Cameron Jerome and Russell Martin.
Villa, like their hosts, will be more than aware of the importance of prevailing in Monday's encounter if they are to avoid relegation.
They started the season with a 1-0 success at AFC Bournemouth, but have been without a victory since - Saturday's 1-1 home draw with West Ham extending their winless streak to 17 games.
With Villa bottom of the table and nine points from safety, manager Remi Garde realises his team desperately need to return to winning ways and is demanding victory against either Norwich or Sunderland on January 2.
"I think we definitely have to win one of these two," Garde said at a news conference.
"It will be difficult because we are fighting against teams not in a good position too.
"The spirit within the dressing room is much better now. The energy in the group is much better than a few weeks earlier.
"It will probably help us to have good performances more regularly."
The Villa manager will likely be without the services of Carlos Sanchez (hamstring), Micah Richards (knee), Jordan Amavi (knee) and Gary Gardner (ankle) due to injury, while recent results give little reason for optimism.
Villa have won just three of their last 12 Premier League games against newly-promoted opposition, losing six and drawing the remaining three.
Since winning at Bournemouth on the opening day, Villa have picked up just two points from eight Premier League away games - although those draws did come in their last two outings, at Southampton and Newcastle United.
Key Opta stats:
- Norwich City have scored in all but two of their 27 league meetings with Aston Villa at home.
- Villa have won their last three league meetings with Norwich - they have never won four in a row in league competition versus the Canaries.
- Gabriel Agbonlahor has had a hand in six goals (three goals, three assists) in six Premier League appearances against Norwich.
- Norwich have not won their final league game in a calendar year since 2010; losing in 2014, 2013 and 2012 and drawing in 2011.
- The last time that Villa ended a calendar year with a league victory was in 2011, when they won 3-1 away at Chelsea on New Years Eve.