Tomorrow evening, Aston Villa head up the road to take on the lionhearted Burton Albion, who come to the table small in size, but can deliver a hefty punch to break the jaw of teams that come on a bit too strongly over in Burton.
What to know about Aston Villa
Ever since Reading, Aston Villa haven’t really looked back. Despite two 0-0 draws at Villa Park against Brentford and Boro, Villa found their feet via Albert Adomah and have went six games unbeaten in the league with three wins and three draws.
What’s more Jonathan Kodjia is churning towards full form and will look to be back to his best very soon. On Saturday, he brought Villa into the game with a stunning pass to allow Adomah in on goal, and via a fifty yard dribble that drew a foul leading Hourihane to score from the free kick that followed. Kodjia, despite his flaws, is Villa’s main man.
However, his supporting cast have stepped up to star as well. Conor Hourihane took the plaudits early on in the season and is banging in the goals with a no-nonsense performance in midfield. Albert Adomah is starring on the left-wing as well, coming in to replace the injured Andre Green and stealing the spotlight with goals, trickery and dances. Robert Snodgrass is finding his feet at Villa and puts a good shift in as well as a great cross.
Villa’s worry mainly revolves around the plughole that Glenn Whelan creates. The Irishman is a composed figure, but is a tractor beam that attracts disaster via pressure. When he’s on his game, Villa won’t lose - but when three midfielders are strangling him out of the game, Villa will concede. He needs a bit more support from Hourihane, but also needs to be thinking ahead of the game - something which should be natural for him. Villa need to be prepared to carry Whelan if they want to succeed.
Replacing Whelan is hard. Josh Onomah gets unsettled when he can’t mirror Hourihane and roam forward. Mile Jedinak looks to be succumbing to a groin injury that won’t go away and Henri Lansbury is inspiring, yet erratic. Hourihane is nailed in as a midfielder, but that double pivot needs someone as good as Conor - and Villa don’t seem to have that right now. Up front, Keinan Davis is straight starter, and his calmness adds a lot of balance to a hectic front four of Adomah, Davis, Snodgrass and Kodjia.
Villa shared the spoils with Nottingham stats-wise, but took the win in a scrappy 2-1 at Villa Park. The Villans are rolling high on a six-game unbeaten streak, but that could come collapsing at any moment. Bruce has been a streaky manager at Villa so far, but he’ll look to turn the tables on that and clock up the wins. A win against Burton here is a must.
What to know about Burton Albion
The little team that could.
Burton Albion are team with a conference-sized catchment area currently delivering knockout blows to any team that tries to make fun out of them. Certainly, the yellow Albion are making a name for themselves in the upper echelons of the Midlands and are really carving out their own name somewhere between Walsall, Derby and Nottingham.
Of course, this is a local rivalry between the two clubs - but it’s still very good natured. Burton fans like to take pics with Villa players as evidenced in their two ties with Villa last season - the fun stops now though. Burton have established themselves in the Championship and will look to build on last year’s impressive campaign. The Brewers from Staffordshire have everything they need to become a bigger club - expect maybe the cash - but their standing in the game rises with every match.
That’s partly because of the aid of a club legend. Nigel Clough has been at Burton for a long time. From 1998 to 2009 he was in charge of the Brewers, and he returned in 2015. When Clough took charge in 1998 at the age of 32, Burton were just above the amateur level of the game. The Southern League made up level 7 and 8 of the English Football pyramid. A league equivalent to the league in which my local Sutton Coldfield town play. That’s an incredible rise - but once a determined team makes the National League, the highest tier of ‘Non-League’ football, anything is possible as evidenced by Burton Albion and Forest Green Rovers.
And thus, we find ourselves heading up to Burton on a Tuesday evening to the Pirelli Stadium which has already claimed three points from Birmingham City and Fulham. Burton are unbeaten at home, much like Villa and any side that falls into the magnetar pit trap laid out by Nigel Clough at the Pirelli will lose. Much like Kurt Cobain’s aching heartbreak in ‘Heart Shaped Box’ it could be too tantalising for teams to try to outgun his Burton side away from home, and he knows that all too well - that’s why he’ll set up on the counter and look to devastate and frustrate Villa.
Last time out, away from home to QPR, Burton dragged Holloway’s team to a 0-0. Perhaps the best way that Burton can be summed up? It’s in the post match reaction. Clough’s team were outgunned, outshot and outposessed, yet Clough looked forlornly at the one chance his Burton side had to win the game. Burton won’t look to spray shots like Han Solo or Clint Eastwood, they’ll look to take their shots like Léon, the professional. One shot, one kill. Game over.
That being said, every club has the chance to be dragged into a box to box quagmire and Steve Bruce will turn to that if he cannot unlock Burton. Clough will also fancy his chances as his team will never lose the motivation to deliver the shock result that Aston Villa have denied them in two previous meetings.
Burton Albion will miss Jackson Irvine, who moved to Hull City, but Matty Palmer and Tom Naylor are decent in the middle. The main threat will be through the trickery on the wing which comes from Sean Scannell, Lucas Akins and Lloyd Dyer. Watch out.
Through nine games, Burton are 2-3-4, with the good results coming in the comforting confines of the Pirelli Stadium. They’ll be looking for a draw, but of course, the sights will be set on stealing a massive victory.
Villa are heavy favourites for this match, with Burton’s win coming in at almost as likely as a draw. 10/11 for a Villa win.
I can’t picture Aston Villa decisively winning this match. Our away woes are still very real despite a 3-0 win last week. Villa need to start winning regularly away from home, and that fightback against Forest was positive, but Burton are a very tricky team to play up in Burton. Villa need to be smart, but they aren’t a smart team.
I think it’s nailed on for a 1-1, but I want to be wrong.