Aston Villa: Will anything other than three points do against Sunderland?
The Premiership relegation battle looks set to go to the wire with five teams still fighting for their lives.
Villa, despite sitting just above the drop zone, are perhaps in the most precarious position – particularly due to their horrendous goal difference.
The Villans currently have a two-point advantage over Wigan, who are third from bottom, and almost joined us level on points on Saturday before Boyce put through his own net with seconds remaining against Spurs.
Above them are Newcastle - who were obliterated by Liverpool on Saturday night - and Sunderland – who themselves have a three-point cushion over Villa – with Norwich four points clear.
The next big game in Villa’s fight for survival comes at home against Sunderland tonight and the result of that game could make or break our season. A win for the visitors would see them create a six-point gap, which would be more like seven given their better goals average. If Villa won they would be on equal points and would go into their final three games with renewed confidence.
It’s pretty much impossible to predict which way the game will go but Villa have to win – and, if they did, Sunderland would suddenly be faced with a even bigger game as they play Stoke the following weekend.
But the table is so tight, Villa could still realistically lose on Monday and still have a chance of staying up. The main issue with losing would be confidence, because we’ve all seen how shaky Villa have looked at times this season.
Wigan are facing some serious fixture congestion thanks to their heroics displays in the FA Cup and it will be interesting to see how the pile up of games will affect their run-in.
They have done tremendously well over the last few years to beat the drop but could this one be one too many? What Villa really don’t want to do is go into their final game needing a result because Wigan at home, on the final day, would be an extremely intense affair. But to avoid that situation Villa need to start winning now and that starts with their next game.
There’s no reason why the claret and blues can’t do the job but a lot will depend on how they start the game. There have been so many occasions this season when the side has started poorly, conceded early and then come back into the match when it’s been too late. Do that against Sunderland and we’ll lose.
The appointment of Paulo Di Canio looks to have been an inspired decision so far – it was always going to go one of two ways, but he really has rallied his troops, which is exactly what we need Paul Lambert to do.
Lambert has said all season he does not want talk of relegation in his dressing room, but with each game that passes by even the most strong-minded player would be struggling not to think of the worst case scenario.
The only way to kick any doubts into touch is to get back right back on the winning trail. Villa have been faced with several ‘must win games’ in the past few months and, to give them credit, they have come out on top.
Huge wins against Reading, QPR and Stoke have given us a more than a fighting chance to stay in this league and we will need that winning mentally to get us through the next few weeks.
Even after Sunderland, we still have to travel Norwich and then Wigan, with a home match against Chelsea in between. The side doesn’t look strong enough to get anything from Chelsea and the hammering they gave us earlier in the season possibly did more damage than all our other defeats, because after that we went on a run of poor performances which has seen us where we are now.
However, if the side can somehow turn that humiliation into something positive – and not just roll over like have against most the top sides since the turn of the year – we could pick up a vital point at least.
If we lose to Sunderland on Monday, it will be very unlikely we’ll get anything from the Chelsea game and equally as unlikely we will stay up.
Perhaps that shows the quality of the Premier League this season – the fact Villa have produced so many substandard displays and yet still have a chance of rebuilding during the summer for another Premiership campaign.
Wigan still have to play West Brom away, Swansea, Man City, Arsenal and then us. That is easily the hardest run in of all the teams at the bottom, but no-one would bet against them picking up a few surprise results.
If Villa win tonight the side can start looking to build enough points to climb to safety before that final game – lose and we’ll get what we’ve probably deserved all season.
But my glass is still just about half full, so now’s the time to get behind the boys and roar us on to victory.
Article by James Fisher