Stu's Tactical View - Aston Villa
So our old boss rolls into town on the back of not having a great season at his new club but after they mauled Sunderland in their last game, their confidence is high compared to us. The Stoke performance was so poor we could have easily lost 3-0 if Crouch could actually hit the target.
While we all hate defeat what hurts us the most is the manner of defeat. We can all forgive a defeat if perceived effort is made but we couldn`t even muster a single shot on target (it's not the first time) and surely must be something that has to be addressed at away games.
The question is if we cant beat a struggling Stoke side how do we play against a Villa side who will be up for this game with the likes of Benteke, Gabby, Weimann and N`Zogbia.
After the Sunderland game they will attack from the outset.
One thing about that game was that Sunderland were poor and while Villa played well they didn`t play that well. The fire and intensity from Sunderland that had served them so well against their near neighbours was severly lacking.
We may have won the game against Reading but it wasn`t pretty. I know the 3 points are all that matters at this point in the season and I would bite the hand off anyone if they offered me a poor scrappy three points now but our passing is all over the place.
We see at times simple passes cant be made at times it's as if they're strangers, which is very worrying. For this game, the team needs minor surgery as what we have isn`t working to its potential.
My team for this crunch game would be Ruddy, Martin, Bennett, Bassong, Whittaker, Bennett, Johnson, Hoolahan, Pilkington, Becchio, Snodgrass.
There were rumours suggesting Turner may be fit for the Aston Villa game, which would be massive for us, however it looks now like he is missing out so I would imagine Ryan Bennett would deputise again.
You may be thinking that`s a very odd looking team I have put out and you would be right - let me explain why.
Bunn has done very well for us but we need big John Ruddy back in goal to start barking orders and letting others know what they are doing. He is effectively a captain without the armband and he is also one our best players.
The backline largely picks itself but I havent gone for Garrido because of the pace of the Villa wingers and in games that I have seen, many a winger has gotten past Garrido and we cant afford that with Benteke in the middle ready to pounce.
Now we come to midfield on the wings with Bennett and Pilkington and in middle of the park Johnson and Hoolahan. Johnson will act as the enforcer and Hoolahan as the creater.
Now upfront our strikers don`t score goals. It's simple really, Kamara has only scored one goal, Jackson is not good enough and Holt isn't the same player as last season and Lambert will know exactly what to expect from him. Also if Holt gets booked again early you never know what will happen.
For this reason and the lack of goals, I find it astonishing that Becchio hasn`t played - I see no reason in signing a player who doesn`t even get brought on. One of us could have done that job for free!
For this game for me he has to start he is basically our wild card.
I have put him alongside Snodgrass - now the reason I have put Snodgrass up front is two fold, he and Becchio already have an understanding from their Leeds days and Ron Vlaar will not like Becchio`s style of play and with Snodgrass upfront not only can he drop a little deeper to get the ball from Hoolahan he can run at their defence. Again Aston Villa have struggled with players that run and attack them.
While i`m sure dropping Holt will be frowned upon, the way we are playing its time for a change.
With the ball we are 4-4-2, without the ball 4-4-1-1 but this 4-4-1-1 is far more attacking than what is being used with a different mind set.
And with Becchio he is somebody with a point a prove and considering Kamara has scored just the one goal he can hardly do any worse than those in front of him.
If Lambert decides to flood the midfield with a central three and two wingers, Snodgrass dropping back will even things up a little. If it's not working at half time it would be a great time to bring back the forgotten man David Fox.
A win and a Wigan loss means we are safe, a draw and West Brom win (over Wigan) and we are getting there. A loss and a Wigan win, then to be honest it's not looking good - we would then be looking nervously at Wigan's Tuesday game which could mean West Brom for us is a must win game.
We need the cauldron of noise and hostility to return from fans we now have games that are like cup finals winner takes all.