With the relegation battle in full swing, both Aston Villa and Crystal Palace will be desperate to put real distance between them and the pit of abyss floating menacingly below them. The pair are locked on 34 points, seven clear of Fulham in 17th, with a win for either side practically ensuring Premier League survival for another year.
For that reason, this weekend's match is one of the most important for both sides, and you can be sure it'll be a close encounter. Villa have been struggling in recent weeks, having lost three on the trot since their stunning win over Chelsea last month, with the home defeat to the practically condemned Fulham particularly painful.
The loss of Christian Benteke to injury last month was a bitter blow, and without him Villa have looked much less threatening up top. Grant Holt has insisted that he's up to the task of leading the line in the absence of the Belgian, and while he netted in the Fulham defeat, it remains to be seen if he can adequately fill Benteke's boots.
Indeed, Holt and co will have a tough time of it at Selhurst Park, with Palace having a one of the best defensive records in the league. Only Chelsea, Man City, Everton and Manchester United can boast better records at the back this season, with Tony Pulis working wonders on the revitalised Eagles since his arrival last November. With their last away win coming at Sunderland on New Years Day, Villa need an upturn in fortunes.
But Holt, who will turn 33 on the day of the match, feels his side can rectify their horror form, starting at Palace this weekend,
“I don’t think you can worry about results in this division,” Holt told the 'Express and Star',
“You can easily go on a four or five-game winning run depending on who you’re playing and where you are. You can only ever worry about the next game. We’ve got Palace away, we know they’re in fine form and playing well. We’ll hopefully have a few lads back to help us out and bump the squad out a bit.
“We want the points and achieve a level quickly. We know we’re there or thereabouts and it’s blatant to see there’s only seven points down to the bottom three. But as a group and as Aston Villa I’d rather be on the points we’re on than other people.
“You have to see the positives and look where we are. We’re in a better position than we were last year so we will be fine.”
As Holt mentioned, Villa should welcome back Fabian Delph, Karim El Ahmadi, and Gabriel Agbonlahor, with the trio having been injury doubts for the weekend. Paul Lambert revealed yesterday that they had trained, and are set to return for the club,
"Everybody is okay," Lambert told reporters on Thursday, "The three lads that missed the Fulham game – Gabby, Fabian and Karim – are fine and they trained this week."
Villa will need a big performance on Saturday against a stubborn Palace, with a blood and thunder encounter sure to take place. It will be a stern test of Holt and the attack in general, with a win sorely needed after weeks of suffering; there'll be no better time for a return to form.
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Article written by Tom Gatehouse.