Aston Villa v Sheffield United | Friday 8th February 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
After initially overseeing a dramatic improvements in performances and results in the earlier weeks of his tenure, Dean Smith now finds himself looking to get Aston Villa’s season back on track after a dip in form of late. The reality is that they do remain in play-off contention, and victory at Villa Park on Friday night would move them a point off the top-six.
Sheffield United, on the other hand, have higher aspirations than just filling one of the four play-off slots, even if they currently possess one of those. Chris Wilder is very much looking to guide his boyhood club into the Premier League via automatic promotion.
With top two Norwich and Leeds dropping points in recent times, it has opened up the chance to apply maximum pressure on those ahead of the Blades. They travel to Birmingham seeking three huge points.
Villa Park: The home of the stalemate
When we think of historic footballing venues, certainly from a British perspective, then Villa Park is never too far away from a mention. It is of course the home of Aston Villa but it has not necessarily been a case of home sweet home for Smith’s side this season. That is despite only suffering two defeats there in the league this season.
A grating concern for Villa supporters is that they have actually only won six times on home soil this season. Out of 15 attempts, that is a number which needs to improve greatly if they are to cement a play-off position for a second consecutive season. The fact of the matter is that they are drawing way too many games here. Seven in total, and four of their last six at home in the league.
Smith won his first three home games in charge, defeating Swansea, Bolton and then local rivals Birmingham. However, the seven to follow in both league and cup and yielded just the one victory, that 2-1 success coming versus bottom side Ipswich in their most recent home encounter. In those six, they’ve conceded at least 2+ in six of those. Scoring goals remains no issue, but defensively they continue to ship.
Sheffield United have the joint-best home record in the Championship. They also hold the joint-third greatest away record in the division as well. If there is a time to catch them cold however, then it is normally on the road. They’ve won seven times on their travels, losing five and drawing only three.
That suggests that the Blades can swing from one high to a bit of a low. The nagging concern is that they’ve beaten teams away from home that they would argue they should be beating. Winning at QPR, Bolton, Millwall, Blackburn, Brentford, Reading and Wigan features only one side currently in the top half of the table.
Wilder likes to set up his side to win, at all costs. They won’t play for a draw, highlighted by the fact they’ve only drew six times this season. Only Wigan has achieved fewer in the English second tier. That being said, they wouldn’t necessarily be unhappy to leave Villa Park with a draw.
I think a chance has to be taken on the Draw in this Friday night battle – 13/5 (Unibet) is a solid price. Taking into account Villa are drawing a lot and stumbling at home, plus Sheff Utd yet to really prove themselves against the better sides away from Bramall Lane, I’ll give the draw a play.
The Championship top scorers face-off
Whilst Friday’s game will see ninth challenging third in terms of league position, there is another mini-battle which shall occur as well. Tammy Abraham and Billy Sharp are the joint-highest scorers in the Championship as things stand, both netting 19 times respectively in the league.
It would be fair to say Villa place a big reliance on the Chelsea loanee to bag the goals, considering the fact their second-highest scorer is Jonathan Kodjia with six goals, and he is mostly a regular substitute these days. The Blades at least have David McGoldrick sitting nicely on 11 goals; someone who has made a great impression after joining on a free transfer last summer.
That is not to say that these two teams don’t have a threat from elsewhere. After all, the two clubs have scored a combined 103 league goals between them this season, and the Abraham and Sharp duo has accounted for only 38 of those.
Abraham is in fine form. Over his last 14 Championship appearances, he has returned 15 goals. That includes netting four in the epic 5-5 home draw with Nottingham Forest in November.
Even at the age of 33, Sharp very much knows where the back of the net is. He has scored goals for fun ever since returning to the club back in 2015. He has nine in his last 11 appearances in both league and cup.
There is every chance the goals could flow in this game given the offensive quality on show. Only Rotherham and Ipswich have conceded more than Aston Villa this season, which is quite incredibly. Sheff Utd are considerably stronger at the back, with their defence being penetrated only 31 times. However, they’ve kept only four clean sheets away from home.
Villa will just have a spell in this game where they pepper the opposition goal. That is often the case at home. Only West Brom have more home goals in the Championship. Although we believe they one could end in a draw, we do think it is worth chancing the two in-form strikers to again find the back of the net.