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It’s time for Ross McCormack to step up and lead the line

Jonathan Kodjia has been Villa’s key player this term. But he’s jetting off sometime today for AFCON, leaving an absence in the Villa side for the next few weeks. Enter Ross McCormack, Villa’s £12 million man who can fire them towards the top six this month.

Aston Villa v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26 : Ross McCormack of Aston Villa celebrates after scoring for Aston Villa during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Burton Albion at Villa Park on December 26, 2016 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

In their last league match for a couple weeks (hey, FA Cup!), Aston Villa head to Cardiff City tonight looking to extend their unbeaten run to four straight and keep pace, if not gain ground on, the Championship’s top sides as the play-off race enters 2017.

Unfortunately for the Villa, it seems likely they’ll be doing it without the club’s most valuable player this term, Jonathan Kodjia. Unless news breaks differently, I’d expect Kodjia to be in Paris tonight, not Cardiff, preparing with his Ivory Coast teammates for the African Cup of Nations, which gets underway from Gabon later this month.

Since arriving at Villa Park at the summer transfer window deadline, Kodjia’s been an ever-present in the Villa side, starting all 19 matches he’s been at B6 for. In fact, the only league match he’s missed this year — as he started four times for Bristol City before the move — was the showdown between Villa and Bristol in late August, as his move was being finalised.

Kodjia has, undoubtedly, been an incredibly important player for Villa this year, with his nine goal mark leading the Claret and Blues by some margin. Without him, we’re probably discussing promotion, not relegation, right now.

But whether his absence starts tonight or next weekend at Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup, Villa must prepare to be without Kodjia and Jordan Ayew for the next month and a half, meaning others will have to step up throughout the squad. Tonight would be a good guy for Villa’s new talisman to present himself.

That talisman needs to be Ross McCormack.

Of Villa’s key attacking players, three are probably ruled out of tonight’s game: Kodjia for AFCON duty, Jack Grealish through injury and Rudy Gestede on account of his reportedly pending transfer to Middlesbrough; remember, Villa will still have Jordan Ayew for this one.

If you go down the line from those three absent players, Villa’s options start to run thin. Albert Adomah should be expected to start on the right and Jordan Ayew on the left, but neither of those guys are huge goal-getters. Leandro Bacuna, who could really start building some momentum here, will probably get another start in midfield, but again, he isn’t the largest goal-scoring threat.

Good thing Steve Bruce has a man who averaged a goal every other game in his last three seasons on the bench.

If Villa are going to be serious contenders for a top-six spot when spring comes around, for the next month and a half, this needs to be McCormack’s club. After all, he did cost Villa £12 million this summer, and we all know the talent’s absolutely there for McCormack to go on a tear here in the next couple months, especially when you remember his recent goal against Burton Albion to give Villa all three points on Boxing Day.

The fixture list is promising, too: Cardiff, who have the league’s fourth-worst defensive record, are followed in the league by Wolverhampton Wanderers, Preston North End, Bristol City, Brentford and Nottingham Forest, all clubs (a) that have surrendered at least 30 goals in 23 or 24 matches this season and (b) that currently sit in the bottom half of the league table.

Make no mistake about it: If Villa are hosting a play-off semi this spring, it’s because they embark a good run of form now against the weakest remaining part of the fixture list.

And if Villa are to embark on that run of form, it seems most likely it’ll start with their £12 million man finally getting going.