Aston Villa travel to the East Midlands on Monday night in the first of what many believe as being one of eleven ‘cup finals’.
It will be the second time that Dean Smith’s men have been to the King Power Stadium within the last few months following a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Carabao Cup Semi-Final.
Last week’s cup final defeat to Manchester City restored some pride in a Villa side that quite simply didn’t turn up at Southampton. Myself, like many, took the long trip down to the St Mary’s Stadium and left feeling embarrassed, disillusioned and ultimately angry by the shambles of a performance from almost all involved.
Despite losing to City, at 2-0 down with more than half of the game to play it was pleasing to see Villa launch some form of fightback and avoid an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a side we could only dream of having player for player. It may have been even better had Bjorn Engels header have not been well saved by keeper, Claudio Bravo.
The sight of the squad and coaching team huddled together after the game coupled with the raucous Villa faithful, positive in the face of defeat should be heralded as an image carried throughout every remaining game. A sense that we believe in the team and their ability to get out of the mess they find themselves in.
On the face of things, the fixture run in is a tough one, yet it is for the teams around us too and yesterday’s results have again given the Villans a chance to climb out of the relegation zone.
With other sides such as Sheffield United and Newcastle United in the F.A. Cup, it means a fixture pile up and more midweek games. There will also be the sides in European action having to travel and play in the days leading up to our own fixture.
With this in mind and the fact other teams around Villa continue to stutter and drop points it’s now the time to put everything in for the cause. However depressing some recent results have been, we sit two places away from our ultimate target of survival.
Two places, two points and with two games in hand.
No one can point to any other excuse other than the collective performance of every player and the choices made by Dean Smith and his coaching staff.
We all knew the tall order of rebuilding a squad and whilst money was heavily spent, the experience of top flight/Premier League football is still incredibly low.
All I ask as a fan who has travelled week in, week out since the early 90s is that the players unite for the cause and cover every blade of grass and scrap for every second ball.
We do not have time for passengers and I do not want to see players coming off for the softest of knocks unless genuinely injured or exhausted.
Mbwana Samatta has shown the spirit that many of the side should aim to replicate. The Tanzanian forward has come in after a prolonged winter break, he has notched goals against Bournemouth and in last week’s cup final and worked incredibly hard on his fitness during the newly introduced Premier League break.
For someone that has come in for what is now seen as a low fee by today’s eye watering figures, he chases defenders down, holds the ball up when required and gets into good positions in the box.
Wingers need to be using his abilities by providing the service for him to cause trouble.
I want to see each player owning their position rather than being bullied by opposing players and subsequently arguing amongst themselves. Some players have the opportunity to showcase their abilities and perhaps push for international call ups.
But most of all, players have the chance to gain huge plaudits, respect and adoration for earning Premier League survival in the same way the squad that got us promoted will be thanked and remembered.
With a possible fixture pile up, some may see it as a negative but as other teams have faltered, it only adds to the enormity of each game and the prize available from each fixture.
The ever popular John McGinn is pushing to be back within a few weeks and with dates being pushed back, it gives him more opportunity to be back for more games than expected. Another positive.
Despite having a tough run himself before suffering his injury, the Scotsman offers an energy and a tenacity that gets fans off their seats and players fired up.
It may just be coincidence but Villa have often raised their game in midweek fixtures winning 8 times, with 3 draws and only 1 loss (away to Chelsea) across the Premier League and Carabao Cup.
Crystal Palace and Sheffield United will have to play at Villa Park under the lights and trips to Leicester tomorrow and Newcastle United away will give an opportunity to build an atmosphere like the one at home to Everton at the start of the season.
Eleven games to be heroes and show their importance to being part of the pride.
Two places, two points with two games in hand.
Keep the faith, believe we can achieve.