Fifth-placed Villa play host to bottom club Sunderland in the Championship tonight in Chris Coleman’s first game in charge of the visitors.
The new Black Cats boss begins his tenure with something of an injury crisis to deal with, as at least seven first team players are ruled out. Lamine Kone, Billy Jones, Duncan Watmore, Paddy McNair, Marc Wilson and Jonny Williams are all out with fitness issues, whilst Lee Cattermole is suspended.
Didier Ndong is expected to travel with the squad after returning to the club following a family bereavement and will be required to line up in an unfamiliar Sunderland midfield as Coleman is forced to ring the changes.
Whilst the Black Cats are banking on their new boss providing the boost to steer the club away from the threat of relegation, ex-Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has his Villa side inside the Championship’s top six.
Remarkably, this evening’s fixture is the first second-tier clash of the two sides since April 1975. The two clubs have faced each other dozens of times since in the top flight with a handful of cup ties added in but not since the pair faced an epic battle in the mid-70s has the old second division been the setting.
The 74-75 season had both clubs battling for promotion from Division Two, and they would face each other on that April afternoon with Sunderland needing to beat Villa to clinch a promotion spot. In the end, Bob Stokoe’s men were beaten by two-goals-to-nil in the West Midlands - a result which allowed Norwich to go up at the Rokerites expense.
It was a gut-wrenching result after Sunderland had been in the top 3 since the previous October. 20,000 fans had travelled from Wearside to the West Midlands in the hope of securing promotion. Stokoe would eventually lead the Rokerites to the First Division the following season with his side unbeaten at home.
Fast forward to 2017 and it’s a different kettle of fish for the Mackems travelling down this afternoon. Sunderland have won just two of their last 18 league visits to Villa Park and Steve Bruce has won 11 of his last 14 home matches against sides he’s previously managed.
700 Sunderland fans will be in the away end tonight, the numbers swelled by a few hundred thanks to Chris Coleman’s unveiling, but Sunderland desperately need to start producing performances to win the supporters back, and that will take time - and results.
Only six Championship sides have scored more than Sunderland away from home this season whilst only Nottingham Forest have conceded more on the road. Villa are pretty miserly on their own turf and only Cardiff and Sheffield United have conceded less at home than Steve Bruce’s side.
It’ll be a relatively unfamiliar Sunderland line-up for this one due to injuries but it really should be no bad thing with several Black Cats players afforded the opportunity to instantly prove themselves to Coleman.
Predicted XI: Steele; Matthews; Browning; O’Shea; Oviedo; Ndong; Gibson; McManaman; Honeyman; McGeady; Grabban
Score Prediction: Sunderland desperately need to start winning games but it won’t be tonight. I can see two or three whistling past whoever is in goal but am sticking my neck out to predict a glorious 1-1 draw.