What happened the last time this fixture was played doesn't need much re-hashing, and in many ways it's hung over the team like a black cloud throughout the season. That game was the first tangible sign that things might not go as well as we'd hoped this season and more than erased any positivity gained from the season opening defeat of West Ham. It's likely that any chance of Kevin MacDonald remaining as anything other than caretaker manager was erased after the thrashing, and for those that think Gerard Houllier is the problem with Aston Villa the Newcastle result likely played a part in his being hired.
That was a long time ago, and these are two very different clubs. John Carew, Stephen Ireland and Stephen Warnock all started for Aston Villa; Andy Carroll scored a hat trick for Newcastle. The Magpies are dealing with some key injuries; Leon Best, Dan Gosling and Alan Smith are all out with injuries and while Hatem Ben Arfa is nearing match fitness he's still a few weeks away from returning. Newcastle will also be without Kevin Nolan, James Perch and Cheik Tiote due to suspension. Unfortunately for Aston Villa, Stephen Ireland is also unable to play.
Villa meanwhile are as healthy as they've been all season. At this moment there are no significant injuries of which we've been made aware and while that could change, unless there's some sort of bus crash (which I am not ruling out in any way because, hey, Aston Villa) Gerard Houllier should be able to field any squad he likes. Of course, lots of people won't like it as much as he does because Houllier is the one that did the picking, but that's a separate issue.
The key in this game as it has been with nearly every other game for Villa this season will be the limiting of mental errors. I have a hard time believing we'll see Newcastle go all in to try and score; a draw would be a decent result for them at this point and Villa have had a great deal of success putting pressure on opposing defenses. With that said, Villa have let teams whose only interest was keeping things at 0-0 score so many times this season due to horrific set piece defense and other assorted mental breakdowns that these games are for more concerning than games against teams that are looking to attack. I have a great deal more faith in this club's ability to keep up in a shootout than I do their ability to take points from a grinder.
This is a winnable game for Villa. Newcastle thrashed Wolves last time out but their overall form the past few weeks has been less than stellar. They're missing a lot of key players and Villa are as healthy as one could hope for at this stage in the season. By all rights, I should be confident of a comfortable victory. But I'm not, and I think you all know why.
Prior to the Wolves game, I said that a loss would make me finally begin to worry about relegation. And boy was I ever right in saying that. A win here and things got a whole lot more comfortable; we wouldn't be out of the woods by a sight but I'd feel a whole lot better about our chances of survival. A draw wouldn't change much; we'd be alive, but only by the skin of our teeth. But a loss? Well, I wouldn't be worried about relegation any longer; it would be more like a foregone conclusion.
(For the other side of the story, visit SB Nation's Newcastle United blog, Coming Home Newcastle. Also check out Aaron's views on the Villa there, and Robert Bishop's thoughts on Newcastle here. We've been busy!)