Norwich City face arguably their first “must win” match of the season when they take on Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday.
City have now lost five games in a row if you include the defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup and things are getting a bit serious. We are only not in the bottom three by virtue of the fact that Newcastle were soundly beaten by Everton on Wednesday night.
Defensively we have been shocking although the arrival of Timm Klose could help on that front. If I was Alex Neil, as I wrote after the Spurs defeat, I would look at playing Ryan Bennett with him as Seb Bassong is a bit of a liability. Russell Martin`s horror show against Liverpool counts him out of central defence in my opinion but he could well re-surface at right back if Ivo Pinto doesn`t shape up pretty quickly.
Pinto was poor against Spurs and will have been twisting and turning in his sleep that night after the display that Harry Kane put on against him. I`m hoping that he can sort himself out and get up to speed quickly because frankly, we need him to.
Striker, Libor Kozak has a fractured ankle and will be missing for up to a month, while Jordan Ayew is starting a three match ban after being sent off against West Ham. Ashley Westwood stands a chance of recovering from a calf injury but Rudy Gestede and Carlos Sanchez are still out. Norwich are likely to come up against John Ruddy’s former understudy, Mark Bunn who has become the Villains’ number one in recent weeks.
Alex Tettey starts a two match ban after getting his tenth booking of the season in the 88th minute against Spurs. Decision making is everything and with the game gone, his poor decision making cost him the booking and a vital player is unavailable for this crucial game. On the plus side, Gary O`Neil is available again and will probably start in Tettey`s absence. Robbie Brady is fit again after recovering from illness but Graham Dorrans is still a sickness doubt. Patrick Bamford will be available for the first time.
HEAD TO HEAD
Norwich haven`t won at Villa Park since a 3-2 win in November 1992 and have won only two of their 21 top flight games there.
Villa have just one win in their last 12 League home fixtures (W1, D4, L7)
Villa are currently on a run of nine games without a first half goal
Only 18 of Villa`s 81 home league games since December 2011 have ended in victory for the Villains
City have lost their last four league games
Norwich have just one win in their last 11 away games (Man Utd)
Only Sunderland (47) have conceded more goals than Norwich`s 46 goals this season in the Premier League
Norwich could equal a record held by Sunderland (set in 2005), by conceding three or more goals in five consecutive matches
There is no option for either side but to win this game. Villa are ten points behind Norwich who are in the 17th place that the home side must target, if they are to make the most unlikely of great escapes. The good news for Norwich is that they have strengthened the squad and the likes of Klose, Bamford and Naismith could be a real boost in the battle to avoid the drop. The return of both Brady and O`Neil will also be a positive with our defence looking better (believe it or not) when Brady plays at left back.
Patrick Bamford is likely to start on the bench, which will be an interesting option to have. I expect it will spell the end of Kyle Lafferty`s involvement in match day squads but Laffs could well leave on loan sooner rather than later.
The only outcome that will be acceptable from a Norwich point of view is an away win. Without Ayew, we have an even better chance of doing that. Five defeats in a row means a win is crucial to stop the rot – that must start here.
I’m hoping that Norwich will have too much for a Villa side who appear, at least from the outside, to be in disarray. There could still be a feel good arrival from the likes of Naismith and Bamford and that could help us get the goals we need.
Villa will be without Ayew, Kozak and Gestede meaning Villa stalwart, Gabriel Agbonlahor could make a rare start.
It will be tense, it will be hard fought and I doubt there’ll be much quality but despite all that it will be compelling stuff.
We have a terrible away record in the Premier league but need to start solidly and make sure we keep things tight, because the first goal will be vital. If we get it, the home crowd will turn, of that I’m certain. If Villa get it, then we give them hope and that could be very dangerous.
I’m going for a City win and a rare clean sheet 0-2.