After a demoralising run of four straight defeats, Norwich City will be desperate to turn things around as they head to the West Midlands to take on bottom club Aston Villa, whose plight is showing few signs of coming to a halt.
Remi Garde actually watched his side make a positive start away to West Ham United in midweek, but that was undone by an incredible moment of madness by striker Jordan Ayew, who until now has been one of the few shining lights in a miserable campaign for the club. His unprovoked elbow on Aaron Cresswell reduced Villa to 10 men and from then on they stood little chance of holding out, with a poor defensive shape also contributing to their downfall.
Even one man short, the kind of space they gave West Ham in wide areas was inexplicable and gave a glimpse as to exactly why they appear to have very little chance of launching a considerable bid to retain Premier League status. Indeed, many people at the club seem to think that it is all over, as no new signings were brought in over the January transfer window and Garde has hinted that his long-term future may be in doubt. As for this game, he may sense a chance of victory up against Norwich’s leaky defence.
Although manager Alex Neil had complaints over the award of the penalty kick that saw his team go 2-0 down at home to Tottenham on Tuesday, he must have ended up relieved that his side only lost by a margin of three, such was their inferiority for almost the whole of the proceedings. After capitulating in their previous match against Liverpool, going behind inside two minutes was a cardinal sin and they were fighting a losing battle from then on.
Given the run that they are on and that they find themselves just two points above the bottom three, this has become a must-win game for the Canaries, whose defence is becoming increasingly leaky despite the recent arrivals of Timm Klose and Ivo Pinto. Even up against a side struggling so badly as Villa they will be vulnerable, so Neil will hope his side can play to their strengths going forward and utilise the creativity of Wes Hoolahan and the menace presented by Steven Naismith.
Ayew begins a three-match ban for Villa, who will be without fellow striker Libor Kozak for a month after he fractured his ankle. Rudy Gestede and Carlos Sanchez are also sidelined.
Gary O’Neil is back from suspension for Norwich, but Alexander Tettey begins one of his own after accumulating 10 yellow cards. Patrick Bamford could make his debut after joining on loan from Chelsea.
Last Meeting: All the goals were in the first half as Christian Benteke inspired Villa to a stunning comeback victory in March 2014. After Wes Hoolhan gave the visitors the lead with three minutes gone, the Belgian hitman scored a fine overhead kick to level and headed in just moments later to put his side in front. A counter-attack saw Leandro Bacuna curl in a third, before Sebastian Bassong’s own goal completed a bad day for Norwich.