Wigan v Aston Villa (Kick Off 3pm)
It would be premature to suggest that things are starting to go a little pear-shaped in the league, but if we’re brutally honest, we could really use a win.
This isn’t a dig at Smith, whilst winnable games have passed us by in December, individual player form has dipped and injuries have absolutely ravaged us.
There’s also been the unsettling tug-of-war with Tammy Abraham to contend with.
The free flowing football that the new boss had rapidly instilled at Villa, has been annoying replaced by an all too familiar return to what went before.
The reasons for Villa’s malaise are pretty clear, but at least the club appears intent on rectifying matters.
Our defence, one of the leakiest in the division has required reinforcements. James Chester has ludicrously been forced to play on one leg for weeks, owing to an ongoing knee complaint and lack of cover. Axel Tuanzebe, so impressive game by game, is back at Manchester United recuperating from a foot injury. Smith acted swiftly, recalling Tommy Elphick from in-form Hull and bringing in promising Kourtney Hause from Wolves on loan.
Additionally, the poor Orjan Nyland (now injured) has been replaced with Croatian international Lovre Kalinic. Astutely, Villa also took the decision to recall Jed Steer from Charlton as back-up. The prospect of Bunn or Morreira waiting in the wings just wasn’t acceptable, clearly.
Knowing that there’s a five point gap to the playoffs, Villa simply need to fashion at win at Wigan. With two consecutive draws (Preston and QPR) we have been nothing short of fortunate that this hasn’t opened up further. Indeed, it must be regarded as a missed opportunity to not have put ourselves in striking distance on the top six.
Whilst the 3-0 home FA Cup defeat to Swansea cannot be used as a measure of league form, it was a reminder that a number of peripheral figures simply won’t cut it. Scott Hogan remains an underwhelming enigma, whilst Callum O’Hare is crying out for senior game time out on loan. Smith, therefore, does need to be wise with his team selection and how he sets Villa up.
Wigan are arguably the ideal team to be facing, with them having the worst form in the division over the last five games.
The Latics are one of the lowest scorers in the league (25) and their defence is comparably woeful to Villa’s, having also conceded a remarkable 40 times.
Therefore, our objective at Wigan has to be victory. Nothing less.
If we harbour genuine ambitions to push our way into the playoffs, winning against floundering sides with a trajectory towards the foot of the division must become Villa’s norm. No excuses.
Anything less, and we must begin to wonder from where the points to fire us up the league will come.
- Neil Taylor is now match fit following outing against Swansea.
- Jack Grealish remains out – expected to be sidelined for the rest of January.
- Tammy Abraham will feature after rejecting a move to Wolves.
- Lovre Kalinic will start his first league game for Villa as number 1.
- Henri Lansbury misses out with another hamstring injury.
- New signing Kourtney Hause may debut in defence.
- Villa Form: DLWDD
- Wigan Form: LLLDL
- Wigan have lost their last 3 games at home, not scoring in each.
- Villa are unbeaten in 3 league games.
- Villa are unbeaten in lat 5 away fixtures.
- A win can lift Villa as high as 7th.
- Villa could fall as low as 14th with defeat.