Villa go into this game with Stoke in reasonably good footballing shape.
Aside from the enforced absence of Jack Grealish through injury and the re-jigging of the back four due to Neil Taylor’s hamstring, the eleven is reasonably settled. Whilst the physio room is busy, a number of those sidelined are long-term or peripheral figures.
We are also in good form and spirit. Wins over Blues & Middlesbrough have been sandwiched between decent draws with both Forest and Albion. On the one hand (no pun intended regarding Rodrigues…), we should have won all of these games, but overall our outlook must be seen as very positive.
Our visitors shouldn’t be readily dismissed after a spell playing the top teams in the division, with Stoke now finding their feet in a division after dropping down from the Premier League.
Whilst Smith has overseen a rapid steadying of the ship at Villa, Gary Rowett, Stoke’s boss has similarly begun to get his teeth into his project. We find ourselves on a 6 game unbeaten run, whilst Stoke haven’t lost in seven.
For this reason, this fixture has deceptive importance, especially with just two points separating both clubs.
Despite recent improved form, Villa made up no ground on Leeds and lost ground on league leaders Norwich. Early season jockeying amongst the top part of the division, appears now to be showing two clear automatic promotion contenders.
Additionally, our form has served to prevent our season from slipping into the realms of mid-table mediocrity.
Therefore, games such as the Stoke fixture, must be seized upon as the opportunity to gradually chip away at any sides above us who drop points. This may be a long, gradual erosion, which over a busy festive Christmas can quicken that process but also build upon existing confidence amongst the squad.
This is best underlined by the fact that even with a win Villa can only rise to 7th and a place outside of the playoff spots.
The mental boost of getting into the top 6 cannot be achieved quickly enough.
This though, will only come to fruition by winning consistently, consecutively and importantly, against Stoke.
- Villa are currently 8th on 32 points.
- Stoke are currently 10th on 30 points.
- Villa Form: WWDWD
- Stoke Form: DDWDW
- Villa are unbeaten in 6
- Stoke are unbeaten in 7
- Potters haven’t lost away since 1st September.
- But they haven’t won at Villa Park in last 6.
- Stoke are joint highest away drawers this term.
- Visitors would leapfrog us with any victory.
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