By Richard Wakefield
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Aston Villa’s F.A cup exploits were predictably cut short by Premier League Tottenham Hotspur. Only the Championship remains for Villa and a win against fellow West Midlands team Wolves could go a long way in making sure that the play-off dream doesn’t suffer the same fate as Villa’s cup run.
A familiar face will be in the oppositions dugout as Villa will face a Paul Lambert managed team for the first time since his departure from Villa Park. Wolves defied the odds to win away at Stoke last week, taking their form to a respectable three wins from their last five in all competitions.
Regardless of Villa meeting a former manager or not, the complexion of the club has changed massively with a new owner, manager, squad and most importantly attitude.
Looking up instead of looking down should be compulsory for Villa being in the Championship but three points aren’t easy to get in this league.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
Despite only losing once in their last five games in all competitions, Wolves carry the shame of having the second worse home form in the whole championship only being beaten by Wigan. An indicator of why this torrid form exists could lie with the stat that they have conceded in their last ten home games; as well as conceding two or more goals in seven of them.
Unsurprisingly to many Villa fans, Paul Lambert hasn’t rectified this problem since his arrival at Wolves with The Wanderers only keeping three clean sheets in their last ten Championship games.
Although Villa are beginning to look a little lacklustre up front because of the ACON tournament, Bruce has more than enough quality in the ranks to attack the slow back line Wolves possesses.
Albert Adomah alone has the pace and technical ability to give Doherty a run for his money. Even Agbonlahor will look fast against Batth and Stearman; no promises can be made on what he’ll do once he’s past them though.
In With the New
All the way back in November Stevenage coach Darren Sarll predicted a big future for his young loan signing Harry McKirdy. Similarly, all the way back in 2012, thousands of Villa fans had high hopes for the young midfielders Ashley Westwood and Gary Gardner. Complaints about the two midfielders flood social media on a weekly basis but a stop-gap has thankfully been found in Aaron Tshibola to partner Jedinak in the middle of the park.
As we have seen before, away from home, Bruce prefers to play a midfield three or substitutes a central-midfielder late on in the game to add the required energy needed to see out a match. Grealish and McCormack are universally agreed to not be good enough at central midfield as their qualities suit further advanced positions.
Therefore, whether it be to add a bit of dynamism and energy late on, or to compliment Jedinak and Tshibola in midfield three, Harry McKirdy’s bright future needs to start from somewhere.
Scoring once in six starts for Stevenage and scoring a goal in his only U-23 game this season, it is easy to see why Darren Sarll rated McKirdy so highly. His goal against Mansfield Town for Stevenage was a brilliant solo run from his own half showing pace and the willingness to take the ball forward. Whilst his recent U-23 goal came against local rivals West Brom, showing that not even the occasion of a local derby is enough to phase him.
Obviously a long shot, but maybe youth is an alternative to the tired old options being used? Remember the use of Graham Fenton in a certain cup final?
No, the boys from Austria aren’t here to kick us while we’re down, but a youngster from Portugal certainly is. Helder Costa showed everybody what he is capable of at Villa Park in Bruce’s first game. Scoring Wolves’ goal in a 1-1 draw, as well as being very unfortunate not to add to his tally.
The left-winger has scored six goals for Wolves this season and is their second highest goal scorer behind veteran David Edwards.
His blistering pace and dribbling ability would be too much for most defenders in this division, but it is utterly frightening when coming up against a slightly out of form Jordan Amavi. His performances against Leeds and Cardiff have done nothing to persuade his critics to think otherwise as his defensive frailties continue to shine.
Somebody in midfield will have to keep an eye out for Costa to help Amavi or there is a more controversial option…
Despite being linked with a move away, there may still be time for Aly Cissokho to make an impression by getting Villa over the line in what could be his last 90 minutes in claret and blue. He proved at the start of the season that although going forward he is incompetent, defensively he can be as solid as any other full back at Championship level.
Follow Richard on Twitter here: @_RichardAVFC