The two biggest clubs in the Championship meet today at Villa Park. Others may dispute that but by any measure Aston Villa and Newcastle United occupy those positions. Off the pitch, anyway; on the pitch, all the money in the world means nothing unless the players gel.
And that’s the difference between the two sides at the moment. Newcastle were flying until last weekend’s surprise home defeat to Wolves; Villa by contrast, haven’t got going. I don’t know why and the fact that we haven’t won since 13th August against Rotherham and why we’ve drawn five of the last six.
Newcastle, by contrast, gelled quickly. They lost the opening two and until last weekend, had won the rest, conceding one against Reading and before last weekend, winning with some ease. Maybe that was the wake-up call they needed; it feels like we need a stick of dynamite underneath us to get the same result.
It’s been five years since we won this fixture; home and away we’ve failed to find a winner or fallen short. We’re the underdogs on the basis of form but win and we’re within four points of Newcastle. Eight of tomorrow’s matches are between sides above us in the table; the opportunity to move significantly lays in wait.
But we will have to defend far better than we did at Ipswich, which seems a daft thing to say given we kept a clean sheet. However, I suspect Newcastle will be far more ruthless if we offer them as many opportunities as we surrendered last week.
More importantly, we need to be more ruthless in front of goal. If we’re going to concede, we need to score more than 1 goal. It’s a ‘feat’ we’ve managed just twice this season and is our genuine problem. Creating opportunities isn’t so much of a problem but converting them? That’s a different matter.
Newcastle bought in two strikers as did we. The difference is theirs aren’t relied upon for goals. They aren’t even guaranteed to be starters, well Murphy isn’t at least. We have bought proven scorers but getting them to gel as a partnership is proving tricky.
Wolves exposed Newcastle last weekend; there is a frailty in concentration in the centre. I don’t expect an open game and perhaps we will sit back and play them on the counter. It’s a dangerous game to play; Derby were put to the sword with ruthless ease recently using that initial gameplan.
Decisions, decisions. Of course, imposing our will might be the best solution which begs the question of whether Jack Grealish will be used this evening. A week to forget in the front pages, he needs to make the headlines in the back. Too much to hope for? Certainly his performance against Ipswich left that open to question.
I’m unconvinced he is the answer at this moment in time; the distractions are too much, surely. Aaron Tshibola has returned to fitness at the right time it seems. Adomah stretching the Newcastle defence? The options are there, it’s whether there has been enough time to prepare them for today’s match.
All will be revealed in ninety minutes…