Aston Villa travel to the Britannia stadium this Saturday in dire need of maximum points if they are to have any chance of pulling off the ‘Great Escape’.
An away day at Stoke is not the type of game you ideally want when you need points so bad but needs must and Remi Garde must somehow fashion a team from the skip-full of limbs that we had the misfortune of watching at home to Liverpool last time out. That 0-6 loss has seriously dented confidence and has seen Garde publicly admit that certain players are not responding to him either in training or on match day – and the anodyne Frenchman surely deserves better.
Given this, it’s anyone’s guess who will make the final XI with question marks over almost every single player. Whoever gets the nod, they owe both the manager and fans a massive performance.
The players are forever telling us on social media how hard they are fighting but there is little evidence of that with some apparently very comfortable in the knowledge that they will move on when we finally drop.
That we will drop can be taken for certain at this stage and the long kiss goodbye makes it all the more difficult. Our recent record in the Potteries hasn’t been too bad with 2 wins from the last 3 however we have lost our 2 most recent (home) games against the same opposition including earlier this season.
Since Stoke regained top flight status in 2008 their home record against us reads W3, D2, L2 – indeed we were the opposition in their first ever Premier League game with Stoke running out 3-2 winners on that occasion.
Early team news is that Rudy Gestede should be in contention for a recall while Gabby Agbonlahor has also passed fit following his bout of vertigo in the Liverpool game which saw him withdrawn.
He wasn’t in truth the only player who looked dizzy that day as all XI looked to have their heads elsewhere – and I’m being kind. Stoke for their part haven’t been in rude form themselves taking 7 points from 7 games but Mark Hughes’ side will be expecting to resume winning ways and do have some quality players to call upon in Arnautovic, Shaqiri & Afellay.
The one thing the home side rarely lack is effort despite their recent downturn in results and they sit comfortably in mid-table. Hope is offered by the hosts’ expected weakened back line with Shawcross definitely ruled out and Bardsley and Muniesa facing late tests. This is make or break time for Villa. A possible fans walkout is being widely reported on the 74th minute although it could come much earlier should we be as abject as we were 13 days ago.
So predictions don’t come easy here. A win is a must but I just don’t see it and I fear we will slip to a 2-0 loss. I wish I could be more optimistic but there you have it. The board don’t believe, the players don’t believe and so it’s with a heavy heart that neither do I.