Venue: Villa Park
Date: Saturday 21st January 2017
Referee: Andrew Madley
Aston Villa: W W D L W
Preston: W L D W W
Last time the two teams met: 1st October 2016 – Preston North End 2 – 0 Aston Villa
A dismal showing from the Villans proved to be Roberto Di Matteo’s last game in charge after goals from Ben Pearson and Jordan Hugill secured three points for the hosts.
After back-to-back away league defeats sandwiched either side of a defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup, Bruce’s side will be glad to get back to Villa Park.
The Villans are unbeaten at home this season but with star striker Jonathan Kodjia missing and the goals therefore drying up, they face a tough task to keep that run going against an in-form Preston North End side.
The visitors have won their last two league games and will be looking to build on that when they visit B6 tomorrow afternoon.
Bruce’s boys have struggled to create chances in recent weeks, something which Bruce has reacted to with the announcement of new signing Henri Lansbury this afternoon. The midfielder will be looking to change the Villans’ luck in the attacking third when he lines up for his debut at Villa Park.
Lansbury has struck six goals himself this season, including a hat-trick against Barnsley last month for Nottingham Forest. He is already walking a tightrope at Villa though as he is only one booking away from a two-match ban.
Last weekend’s performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers was one of the worst performances the boys in claret and blue have produced this season and Bruce will be looking for a response from his side. The gaffer has already proven that he is not afraid of chopping and changing when his charges play badly. He did that for the game against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road earlier in the season so it would not be a surprise to see him do the same again.
Tomorrow’s visitors have a core of former Villa men with manager Simon Grayson, midfielder Daniel Johnson and striker Callum Robinson essential to the way the side has performed this season.
Grayson’s side will come to Villa Park full of confidence and should come with the desire to attack, something which could lead to an open game with the hosts needing to get back to winning ways if they have any hope of reaching the play-offs.
Nathan Baker was forced to pull out of the game against Wolverhampton Wanderers minutes before kick off last weekend and Bruce admits he does not know if the colossal defender will be fit to take his place alongside James Chester tomorrow afternoon.
Tommy Elphick replaced Baker last weekend and will be on standby to start again if needed.
André Green came off the bench and looked bright last weekend so he could be set for a starting berth.
There should not be any other major injury concerns for Bruce, except for long-term absentees Ritchie De Laet and Micah Richards.
Young striker Rushian Hepburn-Murphy is not expected to feature as he is yet to sign a new deal.
The visitors will be without Greg Cunningham and Ben Pearson, who both serve suspensions. Tommy Spurr is expected to replace Cunningham.
Better news for the Lilywhites is that Jermaine Beckford is back from a four-game suspension and former Villa midfielder Daniel Johnson has overcome a bout of flu.
They will be without John Welsh (calf), Calum Woods (knee) and Alex Baptiste (knee) though.
One to watch
Callum Robinson (pictured) is a player most fans believe should never have been let go by Aston Villa Football Club.
Although the Villans are now struggling for goals in the Championship, Robinson definitely isn’t. The Aston Villa academy graduate has scored two goals in his last two games, including a goal in the FA Cup against Arsenal.
He has found the net seven times this season, something all but one of Villa’s strikers can only dream of.
A player with pace, directness and a poacher’s instinct, Robinson will definitely need to be watched carefully by those in the Villa back line.