The question now for Aston Villa fans should be how to prepare for the Championship next season. Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Wycombe, followed by recriminations from angry fans, merely underlined just what their 3-1 defeat at Sunderland told us, with relegation now a certainly bar a miracle turnaround with safety nine points away at the least.
This is not an ideal time for the visit of Crystal Palace, who are hot on the trail of European football and sure to be bolstered by progression through to the FA Cup fourth round with victory at Southampton on the weekend. Alan Pardrew’s side have stuttered of late, but there is no shame in a 3-0 defeat by a back to form Chelsea and the same can be said of their 0-0 draw at an in form Bournemouth. Inbetween they probably made the most of the running in their goalless draw with Swansea City and before that they had taken victories against Stoke and Southampton.
Alan Pardew’s side are best on the road, with opposition obliged to come forward and give spaces that likes of Wilfred Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon can exploit so well, and this is proven by their record in the away table, where they lie fourth with their only two defeats on the road having come at Tottenham and Leicester. Elsewhere their record reads five wins and two draws from seven games and Opta tells us that they won Crystal Palace have won 36 away points in 2015 only Arsenal (38) won more on the road last calendar year in the Premier League.
A more convincing argument for backing Palace may be the form of their hosts. Remi Garde has an unenviable task given the lack of resources at his hands but the initially promising early impression he gave has been gone with no wins in 10 under his tenure. Villa have just eight points this season with three of them at home; It is a surprise that Crystal Palace, a side who are 13 places and more 22 points clear of them, are freely available at 6/4.
Manchester United made it through to the fourth round of the FA Cup draw but they would not have done so had it been for Dean Hammond’s late foul on Memphis Depay which allowed Wayne Rooney to put through a very lucky Red Devils side through.
Until then they had given one of their most lifeless attacking performances of the season. The 10th successive Old Trafford first half without a goal was followed by another 25 minutes before they managed to fire a shot on target. Antony Martial was again inexplicably stuck out wide, Wayne Rooney failed to find space in the middle, and even Juan Mata struggled to penetrate to any great degree before the introduction of Memphis, which hardly changed a great deal.
United have shown some flickers of life in the league with a draw against Chelsea and a win against Swansea in their last two at Old Trafford, but that 0-0 draw against Chelsea was the only occasion since the beginning of December where they have plaid with any verve and fluency and Swansea’s position puts their narrow home win against them into context.
Newcastle are in 18th, but recent results have seen Steve McLaren’s men improve dramatically from their early season performances and while avoiding the drop is still a very tall task, in their current form results shouldn’t be too far away. The form book says that Newcastle have lost their last four on the bounce by a goal to nil but they should have walked away from the Emirates with a convincing win and were beaten only by a stoppage time goal by Everton on Boxing Day; two days later it took an 87th minute penalty for West Brom to get the better of them.
They went down 1-0 at Vicarage Road in their FA Cup but in all honesty would have been well ahead before the halftime break with Georginio Wijnaldum’s poor backpass allowing Troy Deeney to race clear and round keeper Rob Elliot before slotting in. Before that run they had won (albeit with some fortune) against Tottenham at White Hart Lane and took a point against Aston Villa that should in all likeliness have been three.
Their chance conversion is an obvious issue, but they are playing far better, and United far worse, than odds of 4/1 and 17/20 would suggest and Newcastle look worth taking a slight chance to avoid defeat here.
Bournemouth have staged a very strong recovery with just one loss in their last five (away at Arsenal) and the singing of Juan Iturbe will give them a big quality boost in the new year going forward. Their task against West Ham may not be as simple as quotes of 23/20 suggest, with the Hammers having recovered form at the same time as their key players, as shown by wins against Southampton and Liverpool. With a loss of just two games on the road, this may be best left.
4 pts Crystal Palace (6/4 general)
1 pt Newcastle/Draw (evs general)