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The year is drawing to a close and on its penultimate day we travel to Aston Villa to kick off the second half of our Premier League season.

It’s been a season that hasn’t, so far, gone to plan and we sit next to bottom of the league and will definitely be no higher in the table after this game as we move in to 2024.

Villa will become the first team we play second time around with them having beaten us 3-1 at the Turf back in August and it was a result we could have no complaint over although, at the time, I don’t think any of us could have envisaged the first half of the season being as tough as it has.

Defeat against Liverpool on Boxing Day kept us on eleven points. We remain two points ahead of Sheffield United but their defeat earlier on the day has allowed Luton to move four points ahead of while they too remain in the bottom three.

There is no doubt that we need a real lift if we are going to get close to the teams just outside of the relegation positions, but it can be done. When we travelled to Bournemouth at the end of October, they were below us after nine games. They had three points and hadn’t won a single game. They shouldn’t have beaten us either that day; they did and they’ve now gone on to win seven out of nine with the only defeat coming at Manchester City.

The start to the second half of the season couldn’t be much more difficult. Villa have the best home record in the league but we have to start somewhere and we do, at least, go into the game on the back of two away games without defeat.

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Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s game, manager Vincent Kompany admitted: “I think it’s fair to say it’s been tough so far. I would have liked to have seen more points and I think the team deserved more points, but that’s how it goes.

“It feels like at this moment it’s not enough but we are all very confident for the next nineteen games and that lives within the club. Ideally we have to be better than three teams and were going to do everything we can to make sure of that.”

Kompany confirmed that Hjalmar Ekdal would again be ruled out and I think that was news to us with, I’m sure, no injury having previously been reported. He made no reference to any other player currently out injured so maybe we have a full squad to choose from other than Ekdal and Luca Koleosho.

A reminder that the team against Liverpool was: James Trafford, Vitinho, Dara O’Shea, Jordan Beyer, Charlie Taylor, Wilson Odobert, Josh Brownhill, Sander Berge, Mike Trésor, Zeki Amdouni, Lyle Foster. Subs: Arijanet Muric, Connor Roberts, Hannes Delcroix, Josh Cullen, Aaron Ramsey, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Nathan Redmond, Jacob Bruun Larsen, Jay Rodriguez.

Aston Villa ended last season in seventh place in the Premier League but they were as low as seventeenth last season when they sacked Steven Gerrard and replaced him with current manager Unai Emery. They averaged not far short of two points per game for the remainder of the season.

It’s similar this season. They currently sit third with 39 points from their nineteen games, just one point behind Arsenal and three behind leaders Liverpool. It’s their home form that’s proving to be key for them. They would be down in sixth place based on away form with just four wins, at Burnley and then three in London at Chelsea, Tottenham and Brentford.

At home, it’s eight wins and one draw from nine games which has seen them score 26 times while conceding just six. Amazingly, the one game they didn’t win was in their most recent home game against bottom club Sheffield United and that night it took a Nicolò Zaniolo goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time to earn a point after their former player Cameron Archer had given Sheffield United the lead just three minutes from the end of normal time.

Other than that, it’s wins all the way against Everton, Crystal Palace, Brighton, West Ham, Luton and Fulham before more recently wins against Manchester City and Arsenal.

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Although, with 25, they have conceded the most goals of the teams in the top four, only Manchester City have scored more goals than Villa in the whole league. They’ve no reached forty goals at just over two per game and they’ve come from twelve different players. Ollie Watkins (pictured above) leads the way with nine while all of John McGinn, Douglas Luiz and Leon Bailey have contributed five goals.

Villa will be without Lucas Digne tomorrow. He limped out of the defeat against Manchester United on Boxing Day and Emery confirmed: “Lucas Digne is injured, he’s going to be out of the team for some weeks.”

They will also be missing Pau Torres who is on his way back from injury and Youri Tielemans will again be unavailable. That adds to long term injury victims including Tyrone Mings and Emiliano Buendía.

They do have Matty Cash available again. The full back who scored their opening two goals at Burnley earlier in the season has just served a one match suspension but Boubacar Kamara remains suspended following his red card at Brentford.

The Villa team at Old Trafford in their most recent game was: Emiliano Martínez, Ezri Konsa, Diego Carlos, Clément Lenglet, Lucas Digne, Leander Dendoncker, Douglas Luiz, Leon Bailey, John McGinn, Jacob Ramsey, Ollie Watkins. Subs: Filip Marschall, Sam Proctor, Pau Torres, Álex Moreno, Calum Chambers, Moussa Diaby, Nicolò Zaniolo, Jhon Durán, Tim Iroegbunam.




It was our final away game of the 2021/22 season, a game rescheduled having been called off earlier in the season at less than two hours notice.

We’d been beaten at Spurs four days earlier but kicked off the game outside of the bottom three but this was a night of controversy again just as had been the case at Spurs with the big decisions going against us.

A few minutes before half time, we won a penalty when Emiliano Buendía brought down Maxwel Cornet. It was a clear penalty and Ashley Barnes stepped up to score his final Premier League goal for the club.

Villa were level early in the second half when Buendía got ahead of Connor Roberts to volley home a John McGinn cross but play should have been stopped when a Villa throw was taken from well inside the pitch.

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We then thought we might have got a second penalty for handball against Lucas Digne. I didn’t think it was but it was just about identical to the one given against us at Spurs. They are either both penalties or neither of them are. Spurs got theirs, we didn’t get ours.

We had one last big chance to win it when Roberts found Wout Weghorst. It was brilliant defending from Tyrone Mings but he should never have been given the chance to block it. That should have been a goal.

The game ended with another shocker of a decision when referee Paul Tierney sent off Matt Lowton. I wrote at the time that if that’s a red card then the game has lost its way. Astonishingly, VAR backed up Tierney.

The draw left us needing to match Leeds in the final game. We know what happened.

The teams were;

Aston Villa: Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash, Calum Chambers, Tyrone Mings, Lucas Digne, John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey (Philippe Coutinho 71), Emiliano Buendía, Carney Chukwuemeka (Bertrand Traoré 57), Ollie Watkins (Danny Ings 78). Subs not used: Robin Olsen, Morgan Sansom, Ashley Young, Marvelous Nakamba, Tim Iroegbunam. Josh Feeney.

Burnley: Nick Pope, Connor Roberts, Nathan Collins, James Tarkowski, Kevin Long, Charlie Taylor, Dwight McNeil (Aaron Lennon 79), Jack Cork, Josh Brownhill, Ashley Barnes (Wout Weghorst 71), Maxwel Cornet (Matt Lowton 85). Subs not used: Wayne Hennessey, Phil Bardsley, Bobby Thomas, Owen Dodgson, Dale Stephens, Dara Costelloe.

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