Further, it takes on major importance, given that there is also a five point gap to sixth place Playoff spot.
Villa have been down this road before in our opening season in The Championship, flirting with the idea of breaking into the top six, without ever putting a string of results together to make it happen.
Things do feel different this time though.
Gone is the abject football of the previous regime, replaced by a positive, attacking philosophy under Dean Smith.
This reaped rewards throughout December, with Villa putting on a number of impressive displays.
However, both our form and style of play have been badly hampered by injury, forcing Smith’s hand.
The loss of Grealish is leaving a glaring hole in our attack. In truth, we once again have looked incredibly imbalanced in midfield as a result.
The injury to Neil Taylor also resonated across the entire defence, forcing a switching of fullbacks and Elmohamady into awkward right back duties for which we’ve been repeatedly punished. Additionally, Tuanzebe’s injury brought an end to his impressive form and growing partnership with James Chester, with James Bree assuming an unorthodox centre-half pairing.
Similarly Tommy Elphick has been brought back from Hull, with the forgotten former Championship winner likely to find himself a first choice Villa centre half immediately.
In short, this is a really important New Years Day clash.
A win is essential. If results don’t go in our favour, it at least enables Villa to keep pace. If they do, we could find ourselves within just two points striking distance.
Any loss exposes us to the risk of being eight points adrift, an undesirable and deflating outcome if it were to occur.
- Tommy Elphick expected to return to partner James Chester at centre half.
- Jed Steer likely to be promoted to Number 1 ahead of Bunn & Morreira.
- Grealish, Taylor & Tuanzebe all out injured.
- No Luongo for QPR – he’s on international duty.
- Cameron, Rangel & Hemed also out for the visitors.
- We’ve lost our last two games to QPR.
- We haven’t lost a home game on New Years Day since 2001.
- Villa Form: DDLWD (9th – 37 Points)
- QPR Form: LWWWD (8th – 38 Points)