Hands up if you are nervous/excited/can’t stop thinking about tomorrow? I’m sure I’m not the only one with my hand waving in the air. I get excited about every football match, but this one has brought back feelings on a deeper level, the realisation that we could be on the brink of a promotion run in. Tomorrow we kick off a run of six games, all against promotion rivals, so by 1700hrs on the 10th March, our promotion bid could be extremely strong, or it could be left in tatters. Obviously, there are still plenty of games after the Preston game on the 10th March, but I’d say that we need to be in contention by then. If we don’t pick up points against the teams around us then we will be playing Championship football next season again, and most likely without our most prized assets.
Tomorrow’s game is arguably the toughest that we will face, given the strength of Villa and their seven-game winning run. If we were to win, then we will be only four points behind Villa, currently in 2nd. I’d say that if we lose tomorrow then we are out of the race for the second automatic promotion spot while awin keeps us in the race, but even then it would be a stretch. The focus for now should be solidifying a top 6 finish and if after the next run of games it is in our sights to finish 2nd then we can adjust the target.
Aston Villa are currently very much on song, with seven league wins in a row. They last lost in the league on Boxing Day against Brentford at Griffin Park, but since then they have won every game, bar an FA Cup defeat to Peterborough, and have scored 16 goals along the way. They have plenty of fire power with Albert Adomah, Lewis Grabban, Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia all able to find the back of the net while Robert Snodgrass, Jack Grealish and Conor Hourihane pull the strings in midfield. Their strength in the midfield is exceptional, but with our own midfield also very strong I’d say that whoever wins the midfield battle, wins the match.
With Fulham’s left and right back so prone to attacking, we have to be very careful that we don’t leave Ream and Kalas isolated. Our defensive game needs to be perfect tomorrow. Adomah has 14 goals this season in all competitions so someone will need to be on him like a wart sticker all day long. Kevin McDonald’s role tomorrow will be to sit in front of the defence and nullify whatever attack comes his way. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t come marauding forward as Villa are quick on the break, so we need him to hold back.
As strong as Villa are going forward, I fully believe that we have the attacking prowess to cause their aged and static defence a lot of problems. If Mitrovic is fit enough I’d love to see him given a go to terrorize Terry and Chester, but if not, a front three of Ryan Sessegnon, Abou Kamara and Lucas Piazon should cause enough headaches in there. I’d go for Kamara over Fonte as I think Kamara’s strength and power would work better against a static defence than Fonte’s silkiness. I like Fonte, but his size would play right into Terry and Chester’s hands.
Above all tomorrow, we have to play our game. Villa are strong, yes, but they are also quite uninspiring for me. They don’t really blow teams away, a 5-0 thumping of Bristol City aside. They won comfortably at Birmingham last weekend, but the Blues are one of the poorest sides I’ve seen this season, and there is no way Fulham will give them as much time on the ball. It’s going to be tough, but Villa haven’t won at Craven Cottage since 2010. To be perfectly honest, I draw would be a decent result but we have it in us to win.