Preview: Aston Villa v Stoke #avfc

In a week where our 63 year old manager Gerard Houllier was taken ill to hospital, one wonders what could possibly happen next in the most bizarre of seasons for Aston Villa. Whilst I’m a believer that one makes their own luck, luck it appears, has deserted Villa for vast swathes of the 2010/2011 season.  And with that a tricky home fixture against a steady Stoke team looms.

Villa go into the game in much improved form.  A battling away draw at Everton was followed up with deserved victories over Newcastle and West Ham.  Things appeared rosier and table has certainly looked healthier of late.  The defence sometimes remembers how to defend and our attacking prowess, assuming we can retain all of it for next season, looks the real deal for the future.

The squad also goes into the match with no injuries and this should provide in assistant boss Gary McAllister with surely enough to turn over a combative but not wholly convincing Stoke team.  The return of Luke Young at full back has brought some stability to a back line that has faltered and been the root cause of a bad season.  And whilst Kyle Walker and James Collins struggle for form – Richard Dunne appears to have regained some of his powers in recent games.

Stoke come to Villa Park having drubbed Bolton 5-0 at Wembley to reach the final of the FA Cup.  A fine achievement, but it should not mask distinctly average, even declining Premiership form.  Indeed, Tony Pulis might be glad they rallied earlier in the season with away results second worst only to Wolves (…who won at Villa Park I know) and having taken just 5 points from their last 7 fixtures.  This is very much a beatable Stoke team.

A win on Saturday would also be the final nail in the coffin of the relegation debate.  And a welcome nail at that.  Over the last couple of weeks an air of confidence and pride has returned, and the players appear much more at ease.  A great deal of credit must go Houllier’s way.  Lesser men would have walked faced with the criticism from seemingly all but those at the heart of the club (no pun intended).  But he stayed, turned it around (again?) and hopefully will not pay the price for his efforts for the club we love.

Saturday probably won’t be pretty – and one would hope that McAllister will take advantage of the improvements of late and not look to tinker too much to make his mark.  His time will come – but for now it’s time to ensure that whenever that may be, it is in the Premiership.

Prediction Corner:  avfc_vilr says 3-1 to Villa.

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