As we move towards the latter end of the season, during the run in, we have a number of games that will be critical to ensuring Aston Villa remains a Premier League club. What is most important is that we win these games and try to condemn rival clubs to worse situations than our own.
The first of these ‘relegation six-pointers’, as they are often dubbed, is this afternoon. Games against Sunderland have been fixtures that have suited our club in recent years. Our trip to the Stadium of Light to play Sunderland has fallen at the perfect time for the neutral: a win for either side will temporarily propel them above the other club and leave the losing side with continuing relegation concerns.
Between now and the end of the season, it would seem that we have four of these ‘six-pointers’. After today’s game, we face QPR, Everton and Burnley, although I, like most fans, hope that our status as a Premier League team is assured by the time our game against Burnley, which falls on the last day of the season, comes around.
Two years ago, under Paul Lambert, we were in similar trouble but the players stepped up to the plate and took maximum points from games against teams such as Reading, QPR and Sunderland. We have to do the same this year; otherwise we can expect to be playing Championship football come August.
It is well documented that Tim Sherwood is a man who thrives on the passion of the game and over the final few weeks of the season we will need him to transfer that passion to the players as well. The Premier League win against West Bromwich Albion in stoppage time lifted us out of the bottom three and showed that the players are certainly up for the fight.
Although it would be very easy for the players to lose their concentration and focus on an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, they simply can’t afford to. Sherwood knows that and I’m sure he will be insisting that the League is prioritised at the moment. He hinted at his stance on the matter last week in a press conference, when he said that “winning the FA Cup wouldn’t count for anything if we were to get relegated.”
Scott Sinclair and Charles N’Zogbia could be crucial to our fortunes. We need them to replicate their performances last week and become more consistent. They have both come into the side with a chance to reignite their careers. We saw what N’Zogbia can do last week: he will beat players and make chances for the likes of Christian Benteke. As for Scott Sinclair, he knows where the back of the net is and if we create enough chances then he will take them.
There are four critical games between now and the end of the season. If we win them all then we will undoubtedly be safe. It won’t be pretty but that doesn’t matter given the situation the Villans are in. Our players have to scrap for everything, starting today.