Going in to the game on Wednesday, many Villa fans predicted a defeat or maybe even a draw at best despite the fact that Villa were on a four game unbeaten run and Southampton had lost their last two. After a disappointing home draw against Sunderland, fans felt that the Saints would be too strong for Paul Lambert’s side and that Villa’s unbeaten run would come to an abrupt end.
However, that wasn’t the case and when the clock struck 10:00pm Villa fans across the globe were celebrating a monumental victory after the side from B6 had inflicted the first home defeat of the season on the south coast side. A match that had seen Villa take the lead and then immediately give it away twice looked destined to head for a draw before Fabian Delph picked the perfect moment to score his first ever Premier League goal and send both fans and players in to raptures.
That win left Paul Lambert’s side tenth in the table and, amazingly, only three points behind Manchester United. Following on from this weekend’s fixtures we could indeed be above the Red Devils if results go our way.
There is little consensus amongst fans at present with some delighted with the way things are going, stating that they would rather ‘Win ugly than lose nicely’ and some still pointing to the fact that despite the victory on Wednesday we are playing poorly and there is no real sign of improvement being made from the past few years. Whatever the opinion amongst fans is, a win on Sunday against a recently poor Fulham would certainly be a step in the right direction and a step towards Premier League safety for another season.
Fulham started the season worryingly and currently find themselves in the relegation zone on ten points after fourteen games. Their goal difference of -14 is high for this stage of the season and after winning only three games all season and losing their last six league games, Craven Cottage must seem like the ideal place for Villa to carry on their unbeaten run.
Having sacked Martin Jol and appointed former Manchester United assistant Rene Meulensteen, the London based side will now be looking to climb the table rather than slip deeper in to the mire they currently find themselves in.
Dropping Christian Benteke would be a big decision to make for any manager of any team but that decision was justified as Libor Kozak, who was chosen to replace Benteke, got his head on the end of a Karim El Ahmadi cross to give Villa their second goal of the game on Wednesday. The Czech striker is expected to retain his place in the side for the match on Sunday with Benteke set to feature from the bench once more.
The big question over the rest of the team now comes in the defence with question marks over Ron Vlaar’s fitness after the Dutchman was substituted at half time at St Mary’s with a calf injury. Vlaar’s absence from the side had an obvious impact as Villa appeared to lack defensive solidarity in the second half and both of Southampton’s goals came from headers that Vlaar had been winning throughout the first half.
Customary calls for Bacuna to be pushed forward and Lowton to retain his place at right back are set to be heard again this weekend and, depending on the status of Vlaar, Lowton could indeed feature in the starting XI again.
On loan Villa striker Darren Bent will be ineligible to face his parent side due to the terms of his loan agreement, although the former Villa front man has found life hard at Fulham so far and has often featured from the bench after failing to make his mark in London.
The burden for goals is likely to fall at the feet of Dimitar Berbatov again. However the Bulgarian has only scored once in the league this season the Fulham team has only managed to find the net a total of twelve times in fourteen matches.
Fulham could welcome back centre half Brede Hangeland if he manages to overcome a back injury in time and his return could be vital in guiding Fulham away from the drop zone.
Kick off: 1:30pm
Venue: Craven Cottage
Tickets: The away allocation is SOLD OUT!
Referee: Mike Dean
Last meeting: Fulham 1-0 Aston Villa
Fulham 0-2 Aston Villa – @MrOMeara
Fulham 2-1 Aston Villa – Mark Lawrenson