Aston Villa will make the 109 mile trip up the M6 to play their final game of 2018, against Preston North End. Villa returned to winning ways in their 1-0 victory over Swansea on Boxing day. Dean Smith will be hoping they can build on this and make it five unbeaten on the road.
Villa were far from at their best during their recent win but managed to grind out a result. Since our relegation to the Championship, it has been in the games we have been expected to win that we have struggled.
Our away form has improved since the appointment of Smith but it is still far from perfect. In 12 trips so far this season we have won 4, lost 4 and drawn 4 games.
Preston has struggled so far this season, partly down to massive injury problems. They sit 17th in the table and will have one eye on the relegation zone. I would like to think they have enough about them to stay in the division this season.
They are a club who tend to build within or buy with the plan of improving a player. A prime example of this is that their record signing was David Mellor from Liverpool for £2.07million in 2006.
Ten of Preston’s 36 goals this season have come from set pieces. We will have to be careful not to give away pointless fouls and corners. Alex Neil’s side will look to camp just inside the opposition half and dictate the game. They look for shots from outside the box at every opportunity.
ONE TO WATCH
I would have gone with former Villan Callum Robinson but he has been ruled out through injury. I will opt for midfielder Alan Browne instead. The 23-year-old Ireland midfielder has scored 8 and assisted 3 so far this season.
He isn’t all about goals though as he will put a shift in defensively and is pretty good in the air. If I was to say he had a weakness then I would point towards his passing. He completes on average 70% of his passes per game.
Aston Villa will once again be without Jack Grealish (shin) and Axel Tuanzebe (foot). Mile Jedinak and Henri Lansbury could be close to a return after returning to training this week. It is unclear if Neil Taylor will travel.
Youngsters Calum O’Hare and Jake Doyle-Hayes are also both unavailable. Smith has stated that he is currently down to the “bare bones“.
Preston is expected to be without NINE first team players. Ben Davis is the latest to join their injury list after picking up a hamstring injury in the 2-1 defeat against Hull on Boxing day.
Their long injury list also includes Robinson, Brandon Barker, Sean Maguire, Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop.
HEAD TO HEAD
Despite both sides being founders of the football league, they have only met on 115 occasions. Villa have the upper edge with 57 wins to Preston’s 38. 20 games have ended all square.
In fact, 8 of the last 14 meetings have ended all square including the 3-3 draw earlier this season at Villa Park. Preston have only won once in that time.
The first-ever meeting between the two sides came in the FA Cup in 1888. Preston came out 3-1 winners at Villa Park.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Predicted XI: Nyland; Elmohammady, Chester, Bree, Hutton; Bjarnason, Hourihane, McGinn; Bolasie, Kodjia; Abraham.
Kick Off: 15.00
TV: AVTV (Outside the UK)
Tickets: 5,602 (Full allocation sold out)
Odds: Preston 9/5 Aston Villa 7/5 Draw 5/2 (Sky Bet)