This weekend’s trip to Preston North End is the first time since 1974 that we’ve faced them in a league match. A goalless draw at Deepdale the history books tell us. North End were relegated that season and as we were promoted a year later, our two paths have had little chance of meeting since.
It is a match which has the horrible tag “must-win” appended for us. Not through any dramatic consequences of defeat – there’s no silverware at stake either – but there’s a sense that Villa need a win. Defeats aren’t ten-aplenty in our season, just that we’ve lost more than we’ve won.
And the pressure is beginning to build.
Roberto Di Matteo remains upbeat about the rest of the season, confident of achieving a promotion place:
“We are only seven points behind sixth place. I believe that this team will be in the top six at the end of the season.
“That is the confidence I have, that the team has, that we will be up there. Who knows where, but we will be up in the top six.”
I love his optimism but the longer the winless run continues, the harder it will become to share his belief. This is a tough division to gain promotion from and if we are to do so, results need to come quickly. Not losing is a good trait but the losing of late goals is troubling. It’s indicative of a lack of concentration, something which is a failing good sides don’t have.
And there’s a good side in this squad screaming to get out. The defence was coming together nicely but recent performances have been disconcerting. Confidence is the issue, the toll of the late goals conceded is beginning to tell with nervousness creeping into the final minutes of the game.
It’s been over a year since we last tasted victory in an away game and that in itself adds to the tension. The players can’t escape that burden, it’s all around them just as love was for Marti Pellow. Only they can save themselves and us along with them. A big performance would help. We’ve had parts of big performances, 60 minutes here, 30 minutes there but not for the whole 90.
So far this season, we can quantify that into the five games where we’ve been ahead only to either draw or lose. Eleven points have gone south. Or north, east and west; anywhere but Villa Park.
Tomorrow is as good a chance as any to take three points. Preston have won their last two home games against Wigan and Cardiff so can’t be taken lightly. The pair are lower than us in the table but not by much. Still, if we look at this fixture, it’s one where all of us believe we can win and the players have to feel the same.
It will be interesting to see if Rudy Gestede or Ross McCormack are recalled. Goals have been at a premium and Jonathan Kodjia was unfortunate at Oakwell to find their ‘keeper in fine form. It would be a surprise if he is dropped but we need to inject a killer instinct into our play. All three have a scoring pedigree in this division so we should be hopeful that it will shine through.
We just have to hope that it comes sooner rather than later. Three points lads. Three words in that sentence, asking what seems to be a small thing.
Keep The Faith.