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Match Preview: Middlesbrough v Aston Villa


ChrisVillan
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Villa travel to Teesside to face Gareth Southgate's Middlesbrough.

FA Barclays Premiership

Saturday 14th April 2007

Kick Off 3pm

Riverside Stadium

What a difference a week makes. As Villa prepared last week for a tough trip to Ewood Park there was still plenty of talk around about the "R" word, despite having the woeful Watford and Sheffield United, and free-falling Wigan and Fulham, below us - in my opinion negating any possibility of Charlton and West Ham sending Villa down, or even into the fight. Today, such talk appears to have subsided among all but the most ridiculously negative Villa fans, and the prospect of a long, pressure-free away trip to the North East is seemingly a popular one.

The change in atmosphere about the place, I think, is as much due to the nature of last week's win over Blackburn as the three points it earned. It was, for most, unexpected. Factor in a heavy Villa presence, the sun, and an atmosphere which came through strongly on the radio (well done folks!), and you have the perfect recipe for a confidence-boosting win as we head into the final six games of the season. The first of those, against Wigan, was drawn. Gabby Agbonlahor capped off a superb week by scoring his third in three, having signed a new contract too.

And so tomorrow we're away again, with the top ten within reach from our lowly 14th spot. We're on 39 points, along with 13th placed Boro. They're above us by virtue of a -3 goal difference to our -5. In other words, a win sends us clear of them by three. Our 39 points means we're eight clear of the relegation zone and 18th placed Sheffield United. There's also four points between Villa and Fulham one place below. Relegation fight? Behave.

Our last four visits have seen the Riverside become something of an odd hunting ground for Villa, with three wins in our last four. 5-2 in 2002/03 was especially strange as it was our long-awaited first away win of the season. The following season a 2-1 win was (if I remember correctly) rubberstamped at the last by a 10-man Villa as Peter Crouch grabbed a winner after N***y So**no made a rare impact in an away trip: a sending off. Next up was a 3-0 defeat, and then there was last year's excellent 4-0 win. Luke Moore's hat-trick was punctuated by a goal from Kevin Phillips, a Boro fan stalked the touchline and launched his season ticket into the dugout, and Lee Cattermole cried. Cracking day.

Middlesbrough fans must be pulling their hair out. They've been shockingly inconsistent this season, with some freakish results thrown in for good measure. They've been doubled by Manchester City and beaten by Sheffield United and West Ham United. They've also picked up two draws with Arsenal, beaten Chelsea and scored 5 past Bolton. Unpredictable much? At Villa Park it was much more routine, as Boro pushed, kicked and time-wasted their way to a 1-1 draw with goals from (embarrassingly) Malcolm Christie and Gareth Barry. It was a truly dreary affair.

It really doesn't matter how you dress this one up. It's two middling teams aiming to secure that 40 points for safety - a myth this season in my opinion - and not a lot else. Neither of us are going to go down, neither of us are getting into Europe and neither of us will finish in the top half. Still, let's hope it's sunny for the Villa fans that make the trip up into Smogsville.

Team news for Villa from what I can gather is that Freddie Bouma and Gary Cahill have been passed fit, so I expect to see Bouma continue at left-back after surviving Antonio Valencia's horror tackle at Villa Park on Monday. Cahill, presumably, will sit out if Martin Laursen remains available. Luke Moore is expected to start on the bench, and John Carew will not be ready in time to feature. Hopefully, then, we'll see Agbonlahor up front and netting his fourth in as many games.

Like Mark Lawrenson (who correctly opted for 2-1 at Blackburn and has predicted the same result again), I have high hopes for this game. Neither team has anything palpable to play for but Villa's dented pride this season would be soothed with a few wins - particularly away wins - in the home stretch. 2-1 win for me as well then, with Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry scoring for the Villa.

Come on you Villa boys!

ChrisVillan

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Nice one Chris, I'm more hopeful than optimistic but it's a change for the better for me :) Hope to see Gardner continue his growth in midfield and look forward to more round pegs in round holes come Saturday 3pm.

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and then there was last year's excellent 4-0 win. Luke Moore's hat-trick was punctuated by a goal from Kevin Phillips, a Boro fan stalked the touchline and launched his season ticket into the dugout, and Lee Cattermole cried. Cracking day.

pity it didn't incapacitate Mclaren. He could've done us all a favour .....
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