Preview: Battle To Beat The Drop Goes To Villa Park

Stu Forster

Paolo Di Canio takes his men to Villa Park tonight hoping to score his third victory in a row and just about put the seal on Premier League survival for the season.

Sunderland Team News

Craig Gardner returns from suspension as Sunderland travel to one of his former clubs. He is joined by Phil Bardsley in being available for the game after overcoming injury, but the match comes too soon for Connor Wickham.

With Gardner's return to the starting line-up likely to come in midfield, Jack Colback could again be asked to fill in at right-back, with Seb Larsson reverting to the left-hand side of midfield, where he started in Paolo Di Canio's first match in charge against Chelsea.

Aston Villa Team News

Gabriel Agbonlahor completed 90 minutes in Villa's 3-0 defeat to Manchester United, leaving Paul Lambert with only long-term injury issues.

Given the importance of this fixture, Villa look set to be unchanged, with Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Charles N'Zogbia all supporting lone front man Christian Benteke.

Predicted Lineups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Colback, O'Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Johnson, Gardner, N'Diaye, Larsson; Sessegnon; Graham

Aston Villa: Guzan; Lowton, Clark, Vlaar, Bennett; Westwood, Delph; N'Zogbia, Weimann, Agbonlahor; Benteke

Key Matchup: Adam Johnson Vs Joe Bennett

A clash of two Middlesbrough academy products, Bennett was actively targeted by Manchester United last Monday. His positioning has seemed suspect throughout the season, and with Johnson edging towards his best form of the season - in addition to Sunderland favouring attacking down the right flank in recent games - Bennett will be in for another busy evening.

Recent Form: WLWDL

Win: Aston Villa 3-2 Queens Park Rangers (Agbonlahor 45+3, Weimann 59, Benteke 81; Jenas 23, Townsend 73)

Loss: Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool (Benteke 31; Henderson 47, Gerrard pen 60)

Win: Stoke City 1-3 Aston Villa (Kightly 80; Agbonlahor 9, Lowton 87, Benteke 90+1)

Draw: Aston Villa 1-1 Fulham (N'Zogbia 55; Delph og 66)

Loss: Manchester United 3-0 Aston Villa (Van Persie 2, 13, 33)

Last Time Around: Aston Villa 0-0 Sunderland, 21/04/12

Little to write home about on our last visit to Villa Park; Nicklas Bendtner had a second half effort ruled out for offside, and Craig Gardner was sent off for a second bookable offence late on. By and large, the Black Cats were on their holidays having secured their Premier League survival.

The Ref: Mike Dean

This will be just the second time Dean has refereed a Sunderland game this season, the other also against a Midlands club - the 4-2 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion.

The Wirral whistler oversaw an equal record of Sunderland games last season (one win, one draw, one loss), which included the Tyne-Wear derby in which both Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole were sent off.

What The Managers Said

Paolo Di Canio:

If we win this game we will stay up and we will try and win the game, not mathematical but with 40 points you should stay up.

It's obvious we do have one eye on the future but in this moment I don't want to lose any sort of energy because I know that football can change quickly.

As I've said my many times my mentality is to keep going and to maintain the same focus because if you want to change the habit or mentality we have to deliver it by the fact, by the example.

There is real focus in my players and in my team.

Paul Lambert:

We've got to win it. Sunderland are going well themselves but it is an opportunity for us.

We are getting better and I still think so many things will happen between now and the end of the season in that little group of teams at the bottom of the table.

We have got a massive game on Monday night and we have to try and win that.

Roker Report Predicts

A slender away win, given the form of Benteke and Agbonlahor. At the other end of the pitch, Villa are doing themselves no favours - without a clean sheet in 2013 and two own goals in the last six games. By contrast, Di Canio has Sunderland organised, motivated and confidence is quickly returning. We'll say a 2-1 win.

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