Aston Villa anxious to get the job done

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Gabriel AgbonlahorGettyImagesGabriel Agbonlahor should fancy his chances against Fulham's defence

Filled with a sense of momentum and buoyed by the confidence that only a sequence of positive results can bring, Villa host Fulham on Saturday aware that victory would put them on the very brink of securing another season in the Premier League.

Villa stand 16th, on 33 points, with six to play - a situation far more positive than a month ago. But now is not the time for complacency; of those last half dozen games, two are against Manchester United and Chelsea, the final fixture at Wigan. The three that remain are Sunderland, Norwich and, coming up first, Fulham. Given that supporters' nerves have been stretched to almost breaking point at times throughout this testing campaign, putting the relegation threat to bed and sparing any further anxiety in May would be hugely appreciated.

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Fulham - and I say this with genuine respect for Martin Jol as a coach, and for many of the players he has in his squad - are just about the perfect opponents at this stage of the season. Sitting comfortably enough in 10th position, the Londoners are safe and without any realistic chance of reaching the top six, that makes them candidates for switching off and dreaming of sun loungers and post-season holidays prematurely.

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration but what isn't too outlandish is the notion that Fulham haven't quite got the edge to their game, with little to play for. And that edge can be decisive. We saw it last Sunday, at St James' Park, when Newcastle stole all three points with an injury time winner. Fulham were decent value for much of that encounter, and threatened sporadically whenever Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz combined, but as the match dragged on, it was Newcastle who were pushing hard. They were hungry to win the game and give their own survival prospects a large tick. The result didn't matter as much to Fulham, and it showed.

Villa must demonstrate the same desire on Saturday, and make the most of what looks, on paper, to be among the 'winnable' games remaining. It's essential Paul Lambert urges his players to capitalise on their current good form, and reminds them of how quickly the relegation scene can change, week on week. A win for Villa, and the right combination of results over the weekend and Lambert may feel his boys are almost there.

It's a game of 'what ifs', but let's play it anyway: Reading and QPR face Liverpool and Everton respectively, so both could have their final, fleeting, fast-expiring, prayers of avoiding relegation ignored. Sunderland, two points below Villa now, are at Newcastle for what will be an intense and unpredictable derby, against neighbours who are not yet completely home and dry. Stoke, a point above Villa, host champions-elect Manchester United, while Norwich, two points above the Villans, are away to Arsenal. Wigan, of course, are in the FA Cup semi-finals.

If games run to form, then, it would be no surprise to see Reading, QPR, Stoke and Norwich all lose, and Sunderland dropping two points (at least). A Villa victory over Fulham could see the club hit 36 points and climb to 14th. That's what at stake, the gains to be had.

Fulham won't lie down, absolutely not. Midway through March, Jol's team won at Spurs. But the loss of Steve Sidwell, suspended, and Askhan Dejagh, injured and seemingly out for the remainder of the season, has weakened their midfield and January loan recruits Urby Emanuelson and Emmanuel Frimpong haven't really got going.

Jol remains reluctant to fully trust Hugo Rodallega, the striker who has started just 14 league games this season. Villa fans may well remember the wonderful volley he scored at Villa Park on an August afternoon for Wigan several seasons ago and hope he continues to start from the bench.

As for Villa, the squad seems a settled and harmonious one and close to full strength. Lambert may throw a selection curveball in - who expected Jordan Bowery to start at Stoke? - but many of the starting XI is set in stone right now. Certainly, the front three of Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann will fancy their chances of getting at Fulham's strong, but slightly pedestrian centre-backs, Brede Hangeland and Phillipe Senderos.

Not for the first time this season, Villa's strikers, you feel, may decide the game.

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