If Aston Villa are to maintain their outside hopes of promotion to the Premier League, they are going to need to win the vast majority of their home games between now and the end of the season. That’s an incredibly tough ask – they have West Brom, Middlesbrough, Derby and Norwich to come at Villa Park between now and the end of the season – but they can take a major step on that road if they manage to turn over third-place Sheffield United in the Friday night game this week.
United, for their part, have very clear designs on not just getting promoted, but automatic promotion without the need for the play-offs. They go into this game just three points behind Norwich and Leeds, and with better goal difference than either, so a win will – for a short while at least – lift them to the summit of the Championship. Just like their opponents, they need to look at this as the kind of game they should be winning if their goals are to be achieved for this season. So what are the bookmakers saying in advance of this battle? Glad you asked. Read on.
Abraham Gives Villains Reason To Be Faithful
Aged 21, Tammy Abraham has had an interesting career already – he has two England caps to his name, which is the same number of appearances he has made for Chelsea, the club to whom he is contracted. For the third consecutive season, the Blues have loaned him out – the first of those loans, to Bristol City, saw him score freely in the Championship. Last season, he was less prolific, although five goals in 31 appearances for a side as limited as Swansea in the Premier League still wasn’t bad.
This season, he has played 24 times in the Championship and scored 19 times; in truth, he’s been one of few bright spots in an underachieving Villa side. The bookies have him as favourite to score first here, with Ladbrokes offering attractive odds of 7/2. Given that he has notched six of Villa’s last seven goals, he’s an excellent shout to break the deadlock here. He’s been on the scoresheet in the last three home games, and the Blades will need to keep an eye on him from pillar to post.
United Must Be Confident Of Scoring
While the visitors tonight must at all times be vigilant of the goal threat provided by Abraham, they’ll take some modicum of solace in the knowledge that they have a few potential scorers themselves. Not least of these is Billy Sharp who, like his Villa counterpart, is one goal off ringing up a total of 20 in the league. There is also the fact that the hosts have been more vulnerable in defence than any side coached by John Terry should be. Last weekend’s goalless draw with Reading marked their first clean sheet in seven games – and they haven’t kept the door shut at home since November.
This could be the defining factor in what will be a keenly-contested game; while both sides are more than capable of scoring, the hosts have question marks over their defence. Leaving aside boss Dean Smith’s admirable commitment to playing more attractive football than his predecessors, it’s hard to see it not costing them points where it counts. Seeing Betway’s odds of 100/30 for the Yorkshire side to win, and both sides to score, we’d consider that our Bet of the Day.
A Close Shave, But Blades To Be A Cut Above
The story of Villa’s season – both before, and after, the arrival of Smith – has been one of inconsistency. It may be that the incumbent needs a preseason to add to, and get the best from, his squad. Whatever the case, Sheffield United at the moment look like a side who could win automatic promotion – even if they’d need major surgery to have a chance of staying in the Premier League. Villa simply don’t look ready, and it’s their mediocre home record (winning fewer than half of their games here) in particular that really stands out as leaving room for improvement.
While it doesn’t seem likely that the hosts will be harshly brushed aside here, then, the smart money is on a narrow win for the visitors. Dafabet are offering 17/2 on a 2-1 win for Chris Wilder’s side, and that sounds about right. When you take into consideration Villa’s ability to turn it on in attack, their seeming inability to do as much about defending, and the visitors’ greater consistency, it’s difficult to come to any conclusion other than the Blades coming away with three points. Our prediction, then, is that United will come away from this game with a temporary perch at the top of the league, while Villa will need to find that X Factor and prepare for a fourth consecutive season at a lower level.
Bets of the Day
: Sheffield United to win, BTTS (Betway, 100/30); United win 2-1 (Dafabet, 17/2); Tammy Abraham scores first (Ladbrokes, 7/2)