Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Aston Villa
The visitors are 14th in the League, and the hosts bottom, but a defeat on New Years Day will see only three points remain between the two. Aston Villa will be right among the clubs fighting for survival and Sunderland would have taken another step toward their mini revival.
However, an Aston Villa win will see the Midlands side move to the top part of the bottom half of the table and Sunderland lose ground on those above them. So essentially, what I am saying is this is a must-not-lose for Sunderland, and to a lesser extent, Villa too.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet has seen his side now go four games unbeaten with a memorable victory against Everton on Boxing day. Sure, the only goal came from a penalty and the goalkeeper was sent off, but the fact they didn’t concede was quite a boost for the side.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, have been having a nightmare of it recently with defeats in the four of the last five games, including defeats to teams around them. Losing to Crystal Palace, Stoke and Fulham has not done much for the morale of the Villa players or fans.
What might be more of a boost, though, is the possible return of star striker Christian Benteke, who, as Paul Lambert was eager to remind us, started scoring at this point last season to help make Villa safe. That is all well and good, but my point, if I was a Villa fan, would be why do we continue to be in that situation come the new year?
If Villa do survive this season and they are not mid table, then I fully expect the ax to drop and Lambert removed. A defeat Wednesday may bring that ax down sooner than later.
Jason Bardwell is a Soccer writer for Rant Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @PACityboy or on www.facebook.com/jasonbardwell1979.