United host two of the worst teams in the division in a week as the promotion race heats up towards the latter part of the season. This week is crucial for getting points on the board as we head to fixtures facing all of the top 3 away from home, consecutively. I don’t think Rafa bothers too much with excuses but this isn’t a week for bad referees, missed chances, bad luck, defensive mistakes or anything else. We simply have to beat the sides placed 16th and then 20th at home. Going into the three tough away games, 72 points will be great a great platform. Aston Villa are in free fall. There fan base is deserting them. Just 26,000 turned up on Tuesday to watch them play (including 3,000 away fans). They’ve lost six of their last eight games and have lost four in a row, all to teams in the bottom eight. They’ve won eight of their 31 league games this season. They’ve scored less than a goal per game and exactly half of our sixty goals. Their last win was against Burton Albion on December 28th. They lie seven points above the divisions relegation zone.
This is a team we should be aiming to beat comfortably. Regardless of the players in their side (and none of them would get in our side) they are where they are because they deserve to be, no other reason. I want to see us go out there and beat them. Huddersfield and Reading play each other on Tuesday (a draw would be nice) so we’ve a chance to put more distance and pressure on all the teams below us by extending the gap to eight points. Brighton have a tough game at Barnsley on Saturday so we could well be extending our lead at the top with a win.
Dwight Gayle should be fit to start the game after looking sharp against Norwich when coming off the bench. That’s a massive boost. We’re such a better side with him in the team partnered with Shelvey. Wolves and Forest are the only games in the league this season that we’ve lost when they’ve started together. We drew with Monday’s opponents and won the rest of the games they’ve started together. It was nice to see Perez be involved so much and get a great goal. I don’t think Diame will come in with Ayoze having done so well on Tuesday. Hayden will probably play if his ankle knock has improved, so time will tell. Atsu looks to be pushing for a start but Rafa trusts Gouffrann.
We’re in the middle of an exceptional Championship season. Huddersfield have more points after 31 games than any team since the ‘formation’ of the division (name change) in 2004/5. Their points total of 61 would have them top by now more often than not. Only Leicester in 2013/14, Cardiff in 12/13 and Leicester in 05/06 have had more points at this stage of the season than NUFC’s 66. I’ve talked all season about needing 90 points to guarantee promotion but it’s starting to look like it’ll take more than that, possibly 92. We’re well on course for that, six points this week takes us to 72, followed by home games with Burton, Barnsley, Preston, Fulham and Wigan would take us to 90 points (if all won). That ignores the other fixtures we have to gain points away from home and Leeds at home. Essentially, win all of our home games and it doesn’t matter what happens away from home. Although we’re brilliant away from home, so I’m now convincing myself record breaking Huddersfield don’t have much a chance at this stage. Time will tell.
Back to the game on Monday and there’s a section of NUFC’s support who couldn’t care less about Aston Villa. That’s absolutely fine, no problem. It riles me a bit when mags pipe up and demand I stop wishing all the ills of the world on them as a club. If you don’t hate them that’s fine, but please stop telling me and thousands of others what to think.
You all know the script. 2009 and then 2016. A non-descript club who picked a fight with us when were at our lowest ebb on a Sunday day at Villa Park. They’d finished 6th and we were in the shit. It’s not one or two banners. It’s not the laughing and the aggression outside of the ground. It’s all of it. It was May this year, the day they chose as a fan base to protest against owner Randy Learner. That was put to one side when Newcastle United rolled into town needing a win. At the end of the worst season in their history, finishing with 17 points and winning just three games, a massive cheer went up at full time. All eyes on Newcastle United.
Our record against them is very good. Since that day in May ’09 we’ve faced them thirteen times and they’ve won just once, in 2011 at their place 1 0. Four of the last five have been draws though. The 1 1 draw with them in a monsoon the last time they were at St James’ was the beginning of the end for Steve McClaren as it was confirmed once and for all after unlikely wins over Liverpool and Spurs, that yes, we were shit. Villa have spent £60 million this season and been heavily backed by their mad owner, Dr Tony Xia. Fair play to him for putting money INTO a football club though.
The Villa faithful have rewarded him by staying away from games. Speak to any Villa fan and they’ll scream about their
magnificent away support. Sell out every game. They haven’t brought 3k to St James’ for over ten years at least and Villa have subsidised tickets for Monday’s game, with just over 1k sold so far. It’s Monday night, on sky, so fair enough. We’re taking 3k to Brighton on a Tuesday night on sky. It tells you a lot about the respective fan bases.
Bar the defensive howlers, the performance as Norwich was excellent. We’ve rode our luck a couple of times this season with performances but we deserve to be where we are. It’s frustrating that we should have four more points this month already after gifting the opposition three goals against QPR and Norwich. That’s football. What matters now is only what we do this week against Villa and then Bristol where it’s likely 100,000 people will turn up for second division football in the space of 5 days. Villa have a number of players on their day who can hurt us. They also have Henri ‘shithouse’ Lansbury playing for them. I hope he gets a great welcome.
Prediction: 4 0 United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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true faith – ISSUE 129 – ALEXANDER MITROVIC Next Post:
GALLOWGATE FLAGS – VILLA GAME – BRING YOUR SCARVES