Spurs v Aston Villa: Preview

MARTIN O'Neill could justifiably claim that his Villans have enjoyed a more fruitful period since the 1-1 draw with Spurs 10 weeks ago. Since the end of November, the Midlanders have reached the Carling Cup Final, putting six goals past Blackburn...

PREVIEW BY BEN PEARCE

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa, Saturday 5.30pm

MARTIN O'Neill could justifiably claim that his Villans have enjoyed a more fruitful period since the 1-1 draw with Spurs 10 weeks ago.

Since the end of November, the Midlanders have reached the Carling Cup Final, putting six goals past Blackburn Rovers at Villa Park in the semi-final, before beating Brighton 3-2 to advance into the fifth round of the FA Cup. The goals have certainly been flooding in - just not in the league, where it really matters.


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Amazingly, for a side boasting such a potent combination of pace and power, O'Neill's side recently went four league games without scoring - their worst sequence since 2001.

Saturday's 2-0 win over Fulham finally ended that run, but that was the Midlanders' first league win of 2010.

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For all their joy in the domestic cups, the five points that Villa gathered from a possible 15 in January has left them with work to do when it comes to their real goal - Champions League qualification.

Arsene Wenger has offered one explanation for Villa's recent lack of firepower, suggesting that O'Neill's side are a long-ball team whose first thought is to thump the ball up to targetmen Emile Heskey or John Carew, or Ashley Young and Stewart Downing on the flanks.

The Villa boss was understandably incensed, but he was cheered on Saturday Gabriel Agbonlahor struck twice against Fulham, taking his league tally to 10.

O'Neill will also hope to have John Carew back from a knee injury, and the Norwegian forward is likely to replace Emile Heskey - who has netted just one league goal all season.

The real revelation, however, has been the form of James Milner, who has excelled since moving into central midfield to accommodate summer signing Stewart Downing.

The 24-year-old is the club's joint second highest scorer with four goals, level with Carew, while he also has another four in cup competitions.

Ham&High Sport verdict: Villa are set up to play on the counter-attack so they arguably prefer to play away from home - where their hosts attack them.

Out of their four goalless games, three were at home, whereas O'Neill's side have won five of their last six on the road in all competitions, including a notable 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.

They will get their wish again on Saturday, because Spurs have played open, attacking football all season at the Lane, regardless of the opposition, and they have been hurt on the break - Man United and Stoke anyone?

The key for Spurs will be precision in the midfield, because Villa are experts at turning a loose pass into a goal - take note Wilson Palacios.

Patience is all-important, and Tottenham must continue to play short, accurate passes even if they are struggling to break through.

This will be a test of temperament as well as technique, and it could be honours even again this weekend against another Birmingham team.

Prediction: 1-1

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