PREVIEW: Sunderland vs. Aston Villa – #avfc #safc

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Cliche time!

“What a difference a week makes!” etc, etc.

Villa were transformed in the space of 5 days, beating West Brom in back to back fixtures at Villa Park.  If truth be told, they weren’t perfect wins, but game by game under Sherwood, Aston Villa are improving remarkably.  There is no doubt about it.

Proof in the pudding?

Defeat to Stoke was achieved only through calamitous injury time defending by club captain Ron Vlaar.  Vlaar single handedly gifted The Potters all three points when a draw was the only feasible outcome.  The Newcastle defeat that followed was a case of one shot conceded and many half chances spurned.  However, the progress was visible.  Our effort, forward thinking play and shape was much, much better.

Sherwood has tinkered and toyed, particularly with our shape and midfield.  Initial victims of the new regime, Westwood & Cleverley, were swiftly recalled.  Cleverley is the standout improved player from the group so far.  Having been beyond anonymous under Lambert, under Sherwood he’s unrecognisable.  So bad he’d been he was jeered off the pitch with increasing hostility.  Cleverley’s resurrection can be measured against his work rate and ovation when substituted against Albion; after his gritty race was run.

Agbonlahor seems to have remembered he’s a Premier League footballer after literally years in the wilderness.  West Brom, who are no Real Madrid admittedly, simply couldn’t handle either his pace or movement.  He absolutely ran them ragged.   I would fancy him against a Wes Brown or O’Shea all day long.

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It’s on this basis that we must go to The Stadium of Light with optimism.  Our curve is upwards, our players reinvigorated & with a manager who desires nothing other than to win.  It’s wholesale, positive change.

Sunderland on the other hand are a puzzle as an outsider.  They also look, to me at least, in similar disarray that Villa have endured.

Poyet as boss and many names on the teamsheet suggest that they should be able to navigate to safety.  In truth, they find themselves in a similar position to many teams in and around the foot of the table.  Tantalisingly close to the safety of mid-table, but too close for comfort to the drop.  However, they look worryingly like the wildcard pick that could end third bottom if their form doesn’t chance.

There is additionally the unfortunate distraction of the Adam Johnson arrest.

Poyet also appears an erratic soul.  Passionate, but rash.  Undoubtedly a fine footballer, but this flair & skill so rarely translates into top managers.  He is struggling at Sunderland and may find himself in hot water if Villa can secure victory on Saturday.

Villa face the prospect of no Benteke (hip/thigh) to add to a never ceasing injury list.  Senderos, Richardson, Cissokho, Baker, Vlaar still remain doubts week to week.  The excellent Hutton will also be a big loss as he continues to serve a suspension.

Sunderland by contrast will miss Catermole (suspended), who gifted Gabby our winning goal in the reverse last year.

If you had asked me a week ago, I would have marked this as an equally massive fixture for Villa.  It now takes on a different, perhaps larger importance having beaten Albion and established a platform.  It’s a great chance to pull away from fourth bottom and also take advantage of the languishing three teams failing to make any ground on us with the games.

Predictions:

Sunderland 0 – 1 Aston Villa

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