Considering the basement-level positions of the clubs, it seems a bit strange to be talking about two teams with momentum, but that’s the case here. Although the spectre of relegation still hangs over both Villa and Rangers, both sets of fans are probably feeling more optimistic now, than they have since bright early season hope quickly faded to into grey relegation-threatened gloom. Both teams have won their last two games, and both teams have a striker in a run of goal scoring form. Whoever takes the three points may well go on to secure salvation, whilst for the losers, what they thought was light at the end of the tunnel, may only turn out to be the 5.50 pm relegation express, heading right for them.
Villa’s season has been a frustrating one for their fans. Paul Lambert has built his reputation on creating ‘no name’ teams. That is assembling a group of players without superstar billings, who work for each other and add up to a total output greater than the sum of the team’s parts. Following this path in Birmingham has meant the rapid promotion of young players from within the club and signing lower league players of promise. Doing this in a short period of time is less than ideal however. Younger players need to be nurtured and developed, otherwise a string of defeats can quickly become like a comfortable pair of slippers – easy to get into, difficult to get out of.
It was always going to need time to work out, but in the Premier League, that commodity is in very short supply. Having a core of experienced pros around to support and guide can be invaluable, but this wasn't a luxury available to Lambert. Throughout the season however, one hope has rested on the broad shoulders of Christian Benteke. The Belgian, a typical Lambert ‘unknown’ player, captured from Genk in the summer, has proved his worth and scored the goals that have largely kept the club’s head above the ‘bottom three water level - they currently lie one place above that now. Successive wins over Newcastle United and away to Reading, mean that Villa approach the game with rare optimism.
For QPR, a struggling season was not what they expected. After all, at the denouement of last season, Mark Hughes had promised that it wouldn't happen. The club had been backed with the Fernandez wallet, and thought they had bought the quality to live up to the pledge. Sad to say, the manager paid for his failure to deliver and was sacked. Enter Redknapp in his ‘Harry Houdini’ guise to save the day. Much like turning around a large ship, these things can’t happen overnight, but after a bit of Harry’s retail therapy in the January sales, he has constructed a team that first stopped losing, and now has begun to win matches. Like Villa they too have won their last two games, away at Southampton, then at home to Sunderland. It’s the first time that Rangers had won consecutive top division games since 1995. Again like Villa, they have a striker in form. Loic Remy was one of those players often linked with English clubs, but no-one had made the deal until Redknapp secured his services from Marsailles in January. It may prove to be a season saving signing.
So, both teams have ‘the big mo’ – at least at the mo – and a striker in form, but who will take invaluable three points? It would be easy to sit on the fence and predict a draw, but a bit like an expensive signing at Manchester City sitting on the bench, all that gets you is get splinters in your backside, so I’ll avoid that. I think the first goal will be big, as confidence is a fragile flower. I’m going for a Benteke early goal, and Villa to run out as winners by a two goal margin. There again, I’m often wrong about these things – who isn't. So what do you think?