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It’s two away Premier League games in the space of four days and having beaten Arsenal 1-0 for our first ever win at the Emirates last Sunday we now travel to Aston Villa for tonight’s game.

Having played for the first time in front of spectators at Arsenal, with 2,000 admitted, it’s back to the current new normal tonight with Birmingham in tier 3 and therefore its clubs not permitted any spectators. Although some of our players commented on how much better it was with a small number of people watching, even if they were opposition fans, we are used to playing in front of an empty stadium now.

Sunday’s win has given us all a big lift. I know it is not the Arsenal of old but it is still Arsenal who are one of the bigger clubs in the Premier League and it seems we have also given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang his goalscoring confidence back; he followed up scoring our winner by netting Arsenal’s equaliser last night in their 1-1 draw against Southampton.

Despite the win, we’ve still dropped back into the bottom three in the league, that coming about last night when Fulham secured a point in a 0-0 draw against Brighton to go above us. Even so, that was probably the result we would have wanted.

The recent run of better results has coincided with players coming back from injury. Ben Mee returned at Brighton and more recently Robbie Brady has come back in and played the last two games, scoring the goal against Everton and having another good game at Arsenal.

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James Tarkowski, who missed the start of the season himself, said: “As a squad we’re getting to a place where we want to be. The gaffer said we were never too far away and it seems in recent weeks we’ve found a good bit of form. That needs to continue because there are plenty of points to pick up.

“It’s nice to see some faces back in and around the squad as well. At this level of football you need that strong squad. It’s not just the eleven on the pitch, it’s the full depth, so it’s nice to see people back and hopefully we’ll get a few more involved in the next few weeks and that real competition in the squad. It’s looking good but we need to show that on the pitch and keep putting in performances and results.”

We got a further boost this week when all of Phil Bardsley, Jack Cork and Dale Stephens played in the under-23 win against Reading. Bardsley played in the first three league games of the season but hasn’t featured since, initially because of COVID and then an injury. His last game was at Newcastle.

Stephens last played in the home defeat against Chelsea while Cork hasn’t played any first team football since sustaining a serious ankle injury in the 1-0 win at Crystal Palace last June. He got 45 minutes in that under-23 game and will need more football before he’s ready for the first team but him playing, along with the other two, has left us with a shorter injury list than has been the case for some time.

Bardsley, against a former club in Villa, and Stephens could come back into the reckoning tonight although I would expect that would be the potential for a place on the bench in what I expect will be an unchanged team from the one that beat Arsenal.

I expect us to line up: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Robbie Brady, Josh Brownhill, Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil, Chris Wood, Jay Rodriguez. Subs from: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Jimmy Dunne, Erik Pieters, Josh Benson, Dale Stephens, Ashley Barnes, Matěj Vydra.

Villa might not have been in this league. They were so, so close to being relegated last season but survived by the one point they won at West Ham on the final day of the season. Two points from the first six points in Project Restart looked to have condemned them to an immediate relegation but eight points from the final four games secured 17th place.

They set off like a house on fire this season. They won all of their first four games during which time they conceded only two goals but they came in an astonishing 7-2 home win against champions Liverpool.

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In six games since they’ve kept two clean sheets, in a 3-0 win at Arsenal and then a 1-0 success at Wolves, but in the other four games they’ve conceded eleven in four defeats. Incredibly, since that win against Liverpool, they’ve been beaten in all three home games against Leeds, Southampton and Brighton.

They are a threat though. Ollie Watkins, the £28 million signing from Brentford has scored six times for them which includes a hat trick against Liverpool. Then there is Jack Grealish. He might not be the best behind the wheel of a car but we saw just how good a player he can be in that first half at Burnley on New Year’s Day.

They will be without two suspended defenders. Matty Cash, who was linked with us in the summer until the price went up, picked up a fifth yellow card of the season in the win at Wolves and later in the game Douglas Luiz got a second yellow. They will also be without Trézéguet who has a hamstring injury but Ross Barkley looks set to return having suffered a similar injury himself.

Also available are Kortney Hause, Fred Guilbert and a name very familiar to us, goalkeeper Tom Heaton. All three came through an under-23 game and there are suggestions that Tom could be on the bench.

They go into the game in tenth place with 18 points from just 10 games and obviously will need to make two changes from the team that beat Wolves because of the suspensions. The team for that game was: Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett, John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, Bertrand Traoré, Ollie Watkins, Jack Grealish. Subs: Jed Steer, Fred Guilbert, Kortney Hause, Ahmed Elmohamady, Conor Hourihane, Marvelous Nakamba, Anwar El Ghazi.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

When we went to Villa Park in September last year we did so having drawn the previous two away games 1-1 at Wolves and Brighton with late goals working against us and then for us. This game gave us a third successive draw.

Villa shaded the first half. They had a goal ruled out for offside by VAR but then did go in front just past the half hour through Anwar El Ghazi and the score remained at 1-0 to the home side at half time. By the time that whistle went I think we were thankful to be only a goal behind with Villa having taken control following their goal.

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Jack Cork was forced off at half time with an injury and with no central midfielders on the bench we changed formation, bringing on Jay Rodriguez and it was Jay, with his first ever Premier League goal for Burnley, who equalised when he headed home an Erik Pieters cross.

I thought we looked comfortable and it was a shock when Villa’s best player John McGinn restored their lead with the first real opportunity following Jay’s goal, but two minutes later it was all square again when Chris Wood headed in a cross from Matt Lowton.

The teams were;

Aston Villa: Tom Heaton, Frederic Guilbert, Björn Engels, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett (Neil Taylor 62), Marvelous Nakamba, John McGinn, Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane, Anwar El Ghazi (Trézéguet 70), Wesley (Keinan Davis 88). Subs not used: Jed Steer, Douglas Luiz, Ezri Konsa, Jota.

Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Erik Pieters, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork (Jay Rodriguez ht), Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes (Robbie Brady 83), Chris Wood. Subs not used: Joe Hart, Phil Bardsley, Ben Gibson, Aaron Lennon, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson.

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