Preview: O'Neill Plans Further Misery For His Former Employers

Any regrets Darren?

Tomorrow sees Sunderland travel to Birmingham to take on Aston Villa as the Premier League begins to come to an end, a fixture with a number of interesting sub-plots around the game itself., which we will look at in more detail along with all the usual bits and pieces as part of our preview here on Roker Report.

So come get some Villa buildup...

Sunderland Team News:

Martin O'Neill will be as frustrated as the Sunderland fans with his side's inconsistent and apathetic form since their FA Cup exit. The manager has been quick to try and rally a response from his squad by offering some of his fringe players a chance to prove their worth in the final four games.

One man who's future seems cut and dry already with the club is Ahmed Elmohamady who has recently spent time with the Egyptian National side in Dubai, featuring against Angola, Nigeria and Iraq. The "Egyptian David Beckham" has failed to really make an impact on Wearside and seems destined to be moving on in the summer. I'm sure many a tear will be shed.

The influential John O'Shea is one name that is set for a return to the fold having been back in full training for over a week. This leaves O'Neill with a decision to make over his back four but you would suspect Matt Kilgallon may be the man to make way. Kilgallon has surprised everyone with his recent form since stepping in to the breach and can count himself unlucky to miss out but as Michael Graham discussed this week, O'Shea's influence is something Sunderland can ill afford to neglect.

There is also the possibility of an interesting midfield battle, team selection depending obviously, between the two Gardner brothers which could be an intriguing tussle should the pair both get the nod although I feel Craig may be lucky to make the starting eleven as O'Neill looks likely to shuffle his midfield pack once again.

Aston Villa Team News:

It would be fair to say that this has been a season to forget for the Villa faithful and their under pressure gaffer probably received the worst news in football, cliché alert, the dreaded vote of confidence. "Sources" from the club were keen to defuse any talk of Big Eck's departure in the summer and were eager to declare their desire not to
destabilise the club further and stand by their man.

There will understandably be a lot of attention from the media circus on both dugouts this weekend at Villa Park, as Martin O'Neill makes his return, a manager who's previous exploits with the hosts have set a hard standard to match for his counterpart McLeish. The now Sunderland supremo managed to establish Villa in the top six for three
straight seasons whilst at the helm, a position which the Villa following would so desperately like to see again.

Villa come in to the game off the back of a pretty dismal showing at Old Trafford last time out where they simply rolled over and complied to an often standard thrashing from Manchester United which served their bid for Premier League survival no favours whatsoever. Villa currently sit top of the pile of six clubs that currently stare relegation square in the face but whilst those below them keep picking up points it will remain "squeaky bum time" in the midlands.

With all of that said McLeish will be looking at tomorrow's game as a must win for his side against an indifferent and seemingly, at times, uninterested Sunderland outfit who have their minds firmly on two weeks in Benidorm.

The Scot's mood would be greatly improved should he receive news of a return to action for a quartet of players recently sidelined; Marc Albrighton, Chris Herd, Ciaran Clark and Stephen Warnock.

Former SAFC target Charles N'Zogbia and the recently linked Carlos Cuellar are also reported to be in frame for starting places whilst Richard Dunne may have to wait another week or so for his return from a broken collarbone sustained in February.

Predicted Lineups:

SAFC: Mignolet, Bardsley, O'Shea, Turner, Colback, Larsson, Cattermole, Vaughan, McClean, Sessegnon, Bendtner

AVFC: Given, Hutton, Collins, Herd, Warnock, Bannan, Gardner, Ireland, Albrighton, N'Zogbia, Agbonlahor

Classic Encounter:

I've plumped for 2008's unlikely 1-0 victory at Villa Park. Mainly because I was in attendance to witness a long awaited goal for Sunderland on their travels. Roy Keane's side had failed to score away from home for more than nine hours before substitute Michael Chopra scampered on to a Richardson through ball before calmly placing the ball past Scott Carson on 77 minutes.

Goals had been hard to come by for SAFC, which was really no surprise, especially when our forward line that day was Darryl Murphy and Roy O'Donovan. I wonder what ever happened to Roy...

The goal was a deserved reward for some solid defensive play, Andy Reid's creativity in the middle and some missed opportunities around the Villa box. This was SAFC's first away win of the season and also doubled our away tally for that term.

Get Rich Quick:

Goals have been hard to come by in recent weeks for both sides, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in an entertaining game being on the cards tomorrow. Both sides have only managed two goals in the league in April, well I say both sides, Villa have scored twice and SAFC have failed to find the back of the net since the 3-3 draw at the Etihad. SAFC have also scored just six goals in 10 premier league trips to Villa Park and never more than once in a single match.

However there is reason for Sunderland fans to be hopeful as Villa have failed to win ten of their last eleven Premier League games. However Sunderland have failed to win their last five away games in the league.

  • Based on the above facts and the indifferent form of both sides a draw seems to be on the cards, a low scoring one at that. 0-0 looks to be a fairly decent bet and is available at around 8/1.
  • At the risk of seeming too pessimistic another bet that caught my eye involves the Half Time/Full Time market where Sunderland to be leading at the interval but the game to end as a draw is available at 14/1.
  • As discussed on this week's Podcast, I believe O'Neill will look to frustrate Villa for as long as possible to try and frustrate the home fans. With this in mind, a goalless first half is available at 13/8.
  • One area where I feel we may be able to cause Villa a lot of problems is through James McClean. It is no secret that Alan Hutton is a more attack minded fullback and he had a dreadful game at Old Trafford. Our young wizard is available at around 11/1 to grab the first goal.
  • Pair this up with a 1-0 win for Sunderland and you can expect around 45/1.

Another interesting bet which could be worth a look if your Bookmakers of choice offer it would be to back a red card in the game - there have been four red cards shown in the last six premier league games between Villa and Sunderland.

Song For Whoever:

Trumpets. You don't hear enough trumpets in modern music, so have some of the Mad Caddies - Villains.

Prediction:

Recent showings from the lads don't exactly have you counting down the minutes for the game, however I believe if we can stick to our game plan and frustrate both the Villa side and their fans then we have every chance of nicking a result on the counter attack. I'm going for a narrow 1-0 win for the lads.

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