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aston villa prog bannerIt’s Clarets v Clarets tomorrow when Burnley, who will be in green, take on Aston Villa tomorrow at Villa Park, a ground that was known as our graveyard when I first started watching our particular version of claret and blue back in the early 1960s.

Away wins are a rarity in this particular fixture. Aston Villa won 2-1 at the Turf in September 1936, some 83 years ago; they haven’t won a league game at Burnley since. Our record at Villa Park, while better than their record at Burnley, isn’t good either, although I have managed to see us come home with victories on three occasions, a 1-0 win in the 1966/67 season, the end of which saw Villa relegated, a brilliant 3-0 success there in the 1972/73 season, to add to a 4-1 win at home earlier in the season, and more recently a 1-0 win on our last visit.

Villa’s relegation in 1967 brought an end to regular visits. We haven’t been in the same division too often and tomorrow’s visit will be just our fifth for a league game in over half a century although we can thrown in another three games in the League Cup, one of them when Villa were down in the third division.

Since that last win in 2015 we’ve been separated by one division. We were in the Championship in 2015/16 but swapped places with Villa at the end of that season as they went down and had three seasons at Championship level before coming back up via the play-offs.

For some of that time, Villa were facing an uncertain future under Randy Lerner’s ownership and then even worse with Tony Xia who followed him; he took them to the brink just over a year ago, all this time while our club has been running with a stable unchanged board of directors.

Ahead of last week’s home game against Norwich, I was surprised to see so much negativity about our start to the season in the national media. I lost count of the number of times I saw a ‘not won since the opening day’ reference become the theme. I saw it differently. We’d done really well at Arsenal, dropped points at Wolves because of a late and very soft penalty decision and, despite not playing well, we’d drawn in the previous game at Brighton.

Last week’s terrific win has seen us move into ninth place and I don’t think there would have been too many dissenters back in early August if they’d been told we would get eight points from the first six games.

Much of the attention this week has centred on an England goalkeeper who just happened to move from Burnley to Villa during the last transfer window. Hugely popular at Burnley, I’m sure we all wish Tom Heaton well but only after tomorrow’s game.

He’ll be playing against us for the first time but he’s not the only player involved tomorrow who will be in that situation with both Matt Lowton and Ashley Westwood having arrived from Villa Park since our last meeting on the final day of the 2014/15 season.

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Lowton has had nothing but praise for Villa this week, saying he enjoyed it there initially. He said: “When I went in I was absolutely buzzing from the first day, the set up, the ground, the fans, it was a huge club and I loved it,” he said about his move there from Sheffield United. “The club as a whole was in a bit of a transition period. It didn’t quite work out in the end, but I was grateful for the opportunity they gave me and the groundwork to be a Premier League player.”

Now very much a Burnley player, he added: “We’re very happy with the way we’ve started. We have got a lot of points on the board and but for a late goal at Wolves it could have been a few more. There’s probably been only one half of football (at Brighton) where we’ve not been where we wanted to be and we put that right last weekend, so the way we have started, we’ve got a great platform to build on.”

Lowton had a mixed 2018/19 season, having to share right back duties with Phil Bardsley with both playing 19 games. This season he was in for the opening day game at Southampton and has kept his place since, as have nine others who started that day.

There have only been two changes all season. Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson started the first three games before suffering an injury at Wolves. He was replaced by Aaron Lennon for the next two games before he himself lost his place last week when Jeff Hendrick came in.

Guðmundsson is fit and available again for Villa but I think he’ll have to settle for a place on the bench with an unchanged team likely to start the game. Only Danny Drinkwater is unavailable.

I think the team will be: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Erik Pieters, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood. Subs from: Joe Hart, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Ben Gibson, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Brady, Jay Rodriguez, Matěj Vydra.

Aston Villa might only have four points to date and they might be in the bottom three right now, but they will be difficult opponents. Their initial problems have, generally, been away from home. They’ve played all three away games in London, at Spurs, Crystal Palace and London and returned with nothing, but they do have four points from their opening three home games and this despite losing the first home game against Bournemouth. They’ve since beat Everton 2-0 and drawn 0-0 against West Ham.

They decided to go big in the transfer market in the summer and that’s been reflected very much in the team selection this season. They beat Derby in the Championship play-off final back in May but only five of that starting eleven were in last week’s team for the game at Arsenal. Neil Taylor, Jack Grealish and John McGinn all started both games as did Tyrone Mings and Anwar El Ghazi, both of whom were on loan last season and made their moves permanent in the summer.

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One of the new signings in the summer was Matt Targett from Southampton. Injury has prevented him from making his debut a yet but he’s fit and could step in. Villa will be without James Chester, Jonathan Kodjia and Henri Lansbury, a player who could so easily have been a Burnley player back in 2014 and more so in 2015.

Of those injured players, manager Dean Smith said of Lansbury: “He’s back jogging now, but Saturday will come too soon for him. He should be back for next week. Chester played against Manchester United U23s on Monday. He’s trained again this week and is working his way back to full fitness. He’ll need a few more games under his belt before being ready for us.”

Kodjia has been out with a facial injury. Smith said; “He had his mask fitted on Wednesday and is back in training, looking like a superhero.”

Villa went out of the League Cup at Brighton in midweek where they made a lot of changes. They will revert to a team similar to that which lost at Arsenal which was (and I’ll have problems not following their goalkeeper’s name with that of Phil Bardsley or Matt Lowton): Tom Heaton, Tyrone Mings, Björn Engels, Frederic Guilbert, Neil Taylor, Marvelous, Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Anwar El Ghazi, Trezeguet, Wesley. Subs: Jed Steer, Jota, Ahmed Elmohamady, Keinan Davis, Conor Hourihane, Ezri Konsa, Henri Lansbury.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

Our second season in the Premier League was coming to an end with relegation having been confirmed after the previous away game which we’d won 1-0 with a Danny Ings goal. We’d bowed out at home with a 0-0 draw against Stoke before this final game of the season at Aston Villa.

Kieran Trippier, Jason Shackell, Danny Ings and substitute Steven Reid, who was retiring, played their final games for the club that day while there were final Premier League appearances for both Fredrik Ulvestad and Matt Taylor who came on for him.

It was, in so many ways, an end of season game with a sharp contrast. We were ready for a return to the Championship but Aston Villa had one more game to go, an FA Cup Final appearance against Arsenal which they lost 4-0. Villa had won their two previous home games against Everton and West Ham which had just about kept them up.

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It proved to be our day with Ings scoring the only goal of the game after six minutes. The goal came initially from a Trippier cross. It was headed out but only to Ulvestad who looped a header back into the box for Ashley Barnes to head across for Ings who scored with his own header from close range.

It was a bad day for Barnes though. He picked up an injury after an excellent first half hour following an aerial challenge. He came back on and immediately collapsed in a heap. At the time I wrote: “Hopefully it will be nothing serious,” but it was and he missed virtually the whole of the following season recovering from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.

I ended my final report of the 2014/15 season with the words: “My next match report will be some time in July at a pre-season friendly somewhere ahead of what we all hope will be another successful season for Burnley Football Club.” I think it is very fair to say that it was as successful as any of us could have hoped for.

The teams at Villa were;

Aston Villa: Jed Steer, Leandro Bacuna (Alan Hutton 80), Ron Vlaar, Nathan Baker, Charles N’Zogbia, Ashley Westwood, Tom Cleverley (Scott Sinclair 72),  Jack Grealish, Fabian Delph, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke. Subs not used: Brad Guzan, Andreas Weimann, Carlos Sánchez, Andre Green, Callum Robinson.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Keane, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, George Boyd, Fredrik Ulvestad (Matt Taylor 65), David Jones, Scott Arfield, Danny Ings (Steven Reid 87), Ashley Barnes (Sam Vokes 34). Subs not used: Matt Gilks, Michael Duff, Michael Kightly, Lukas Jutkiewicz.

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