With the Beast from the East trashing Villa thanks to postponement of a QPR fixture which saw Aston Villa get smashed apart by Ian Holloway’s plucky R’s, Aston Villa need to bounce back in more ways than one. The fans know it, Steve Bruce knows it, and hopefully the squad are back in tune.
They’ll be looking to use Bolton Wanderers as a springboard. But ‘The Trotters’ are no pushovers.
What to know about Aston Villa
Steve Bruce played right into QPR’s hands with a lackadaisical lineup against Holloway’s men who were itching to show Villa up. Villa looked dead until the 85th minute, and despite pulling a goal back, weren’t every really in the game thanks to incredible finishing from the other side. Both teams closed the game equal on expected goals, but with QPR ahead on 3-1 ‘actual goals’. Truth be told, it was a lot more even than it looked, and without some fine goalkeeping from Alex Smithies in the R’s goal, Villa could have made something out of nothing.
Still, a deserved victory for the QPR bunch - and a sore hiding for the Villa lot.
With that in mind, I’d be a bit worried if I was Bolton. It’s similar to Wolves smashing Reading after losing to us, the big team will always look to bounce back. Still, Reading under Jaap Stam have a lot more give than Phil Parkinson’s Bolton, who have fought through everything chucked at them so far to stand with a real chance of survival.
Villa will need to be utterly professional and dispatch Bolton early on. Nerves don’t help either side, but you’d think it would be Villa who have more to lose here as Bolton are six points clear of Birmingham City in the relegation places.
Rotation is the order of the day, and Steve Bruce’s hands have been tied. Due to injuries at both full-back positions, Villa will need to insert a new left-back. The manager has stated that James Bree will get the start, but he’s said that before about Callum O’Hare... Don’t be surprised to see young Mitchell Clark on the bench for Villa, and equally, don’t be shocked to see Birkir Bjarnason pushed out to the left flank at the back, with Glenn Whelan filling in for Mile Jedinak in the middle.
It’s expected that Lewis Grabban will start, and he’ll need to do a better job of rampaging the penalty area - Albert Adomah and Robert Snodgrass did enough for Villa last time out, only for Grabban to go missing in the box.
I’m looking at Snodgrass to be the difference maker today, unless Jack Grealish picks himself up. Old habits dug in against QPR as Villa’s star player fell into frustration, he’ll need to move on from that, quickly.
Villa should go forward with their 4-1-4-1 formation, which has proved to be top-heavy and deadly. Jack Grealish will be the focal in the centre, with a holding man, and Conor Hourihane behind him to link the middle. Henri Lansbury is due a start, and showed a fair bit for Villa against Wolves, coming straight into the game and making his mark.
The left-back position is the big question here, though - and whoever enters that slot for Villa, will need to step up in big fashion.
What to know about Bolton
Bolton have the right ingredients for a bad season. Off-the-pitch issues, a low quality squad - it’s all there. However, Phil Parkinson has worked wonders up north for The Trotters, who are punching out and up with gusto, and look all but set to continue life in the Championship for another season. It’s not over yet though.
Parkinson’s men have only won one game out of their last six, but seem to be masters of the draw, bagging their fair share of equal scores throughout the season so far.
Zach Clough has a brewing legend at Bolton, returning to the club on-loan from Nottingham Forest and will look to make a name for himself against Aston Villa, and Bolton’s strange habit of being unable to lose back-to-back home games might help them out here.
Still, Bolton are poor against the top six, and might miss Darren Pratley. Us Villa fans know that fitness can make all the difference between winning and losing. Missing their main man in midfield isn’t good - again, we know that all too well.
A 4-2-3-1 formation has been Bolton’s go-to formation this season, but they’ll have to patch it up if they want to force a goal on Villa. Gary Madine is a huge miss as a target man, but you’d expect Adam Le Fondre to be a threat, if not the aerial menace that Madine provided.
Aston Villa will also need to shut down Sammy Ameobi, who can get the drop on teams. Without a senior-left back, the right winger could flourish here. It’ll be a big ask for him though.
As long as Villa can keep their left flank quiet, they’ll have a win, but it might not be easy. I’ll take a 3-1 for Villa, and wouldn’t be surprised if Bolton open the scoring. Phil Parkinson has done us like that before.