In recent years, managers have lost their jobs immediately after playing the Lions. Deciding to go against the trend, Aston Villa dismissed their manager of nearly two years, Steve Bruce, before the game after their current run has only seen one win in their last nine league fixtures. Neil Harris' side are on a similar run to Villa and find themselves in the Championship bottom three, but luckily for the Millwall boss, he has been given the time and the patience to try and get us back to winning ways.
Due to Aston Villa's long stint in the top tier of English football, the sides have only met in a league fixture twice since the 1989/90 season. Millwall have been the more successful out of the two, with two victories, one draw and one defeat in all competitions since then and last season the Lions managed to take four points from the Villains.
For different reasons, neither side can afford to lose this one, as defeat for the Midlands side would see them fall further behind in the play-off hunt, whereas defeat for Millwall will see the South London side stay rooted towards the bottom of the table and involved in a relegation fight that nobody could foresee at the start of the season.
Haven't we met before?...
Millwall 2-1 Aston Villa, 25th January 2013 – Not many fancied Millwall's chances against Paul Lambert's Premier League side, but a late header from John Marquis secured the victory and ensured the Lions progressed to the next round of the FA Cup. Darren Bent's mishit effort somehow found it's way into the back of the net, however the Villain's lead was short lived as Danny Shittu's unstoppable header beat Shay Given only minutes later. Aston Villa had six minutes of injury time to try and find an equaliser, however Kenny Jackett's battling Lions managed to hold on and stay in the hat.
Jed Wallace is back in contention for Millwall, however the impressive performances from Shane Ferguson and Jiri Skalak could mean that last season's Player of the Year runner-up will be on the bench. Tom Bradshaw and Aiden O'Brien will also be looking to start for the Lions as will club captain, Steve Morison. Shaun Hutchinson remains on the sidelines for this fixture and Murray Wallace should retain his place at the back alongside Jake Cooper.
Mile Jedinak and Keinan Davis are currently struggling with injuries so are doubt for this trip to South London. James Chester also misses the game with suspension.
THE ONE TO WATCH -
The young midfielder who was locked in a 'will he/won't he?' transfer saga with Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the season needs no introduction. Signing a five-year contract with Aston Villa at the end of September after a summer of transfer rumours, Grealish has been an ever present for the Midlands side and is the player who pulls the strings in the middle of the park. Speaking at the time of the contract signing, Villa CEO Christian Purslow said that Grealish, "will play a pivotal role in leading Aston Villa back to where it belongs". Shaun Williams and Ryan Leonard will be tasked with keeping the boyhood Villa fan quiet and this battle could be crucial to the end result of this game.
WHO ARE YA?
For this week’s ‘Who are ya?’ we speak with my co-host from the recent TalkSport Fan's Forum, Sean King. This week we ask Sean, did he agree with the dismissal of Steve Bruce, why he feels the players may not have gelled so well and which players the Lions need to keep their eye on.
1. All the news this week at Villa Park has been about the sacking of Steve Bruce. How do you feel about his dismissal? Did he deserve more time after stabilising the club?
I think the dismissal is the right decision, since the start of the season we’ve only played well in patches and when we have won games I feel we’ve been quite fortunate. With the quality of players we’ve got, we should be doing better. Bruce hadn’t found a style of play or a formation that suited us and he had a real habit of playing players out of position, last season we grinded out results while playing negative unattractive football, but this season the football has been awful to watch and we haven’t been getting the points needed. I think his stubbornness got the better of him in the end, his decision to keep playing Jedinak at centre back and loan out our other centre backs has left us short of options in defence and vulnerable to concede. His relationship with the Villa fans had become toxic and the time was right for him to go. Most fans will be thankful to him for stabilising the club and for remaining us during a year where he lost both his parents and a summer where we very close to going into administration. But now we need a new direction where we can get the best out of the squad we’ve got and get back to the premier league as tactically we had become stale without any real identity.
2. Although you are in 15th position, you are still within touching distance of the play-offs and just a couple of positive results will see you back in the mix. Why is it so bleak up in the Midlands at present?
Expectations will always be high at Villa Park due to the size and history of the club. We haven’t played any of the teams that you’d be expecting to challenge to win the Championship this season and our winter fixtures are very tough. When you’ve got a squad that has the quality of Grealish, Bolasie, Kodjia and Abraham, as a fan you’d be expecting us to be winning games and playing more attractive football, but it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t helped too that West Brom have started the season strongly and seem to be playing the attacking football that we’d expect to be seeing ourselves.
3. Villa have spent big and also brought in a number of quality players with Premier League pedigree in. Why haven’t they gelled so far? Was that down to the tactics or do the players need to take some of the blame?
I think Bruce and his backroom team have to take a large proportion of the blame as we didn’t find a system that gets the best out of the team. Last season Bruce stumbled upon a winning team when injuries meant Adomah needed to play who was originally cast aside from the squad. We have never played to the strengths of Scott Hogan who was very prolific Brentford, Lansbury rarely makes our squad and he was a key player for Forest. The squad is unbalanced, we have 5 right backs and one left back, but we continue to play a right back at left back, a centre midfielder at centre back and a centre back at right back, which I think most fans have never understood. But we were only 90 minutes away from being promoted last season and I think the players did let him down in the first half of the playoff final and they haven’t performed well enough this season, so they deserve to take some of the blame too.
4. Jack Grealish signed a new contract recently to end any speculation that he may be on his way out. How vital a player is the young midfielder for Villa?
I think if we don’t get promoted this year he will leave and it would be difficult to blame him. The contract has secured us a large fee is he does leave so I think it suits both of us. Grealish is arguably the best player in the league. When Grealish played well last season, we generally won. He hasn’t quite found that same level of form this year but if he can reach those levels, playing in a system that works he will be vital for us if we are able to make a challenge.
5. What player does Millwall need to be wary of?
John McGinn has started the season strongly and scored an absolute wonder strike against Sheffield Wednesday. Tammy Abraham has also looked sharp, but if Grealish is on form he is a threat to any team in the league.
6. What do you think the score will be?
We haven’t got a great record at The Den. With our current situation and Chester being suspended I can see us losing, but I’d take a 1-1.
PREDICTION: MILLWALL 1-0 ASTON VILLA
Teams who have a new or caretaker manager who take the reins normally perform better than under the previous regime and sneak a win from nowhere. Although Aston Villa fall into this category, the midweek late draw with Nottingham Forest has filled Neil Harris' side, and the fans, with a new belief and determination that may have been missing in previous weeks. Villa are without their first choice defenders and the sharpness and strength shown recently by Lee Gregory and Tom Elliott up front will prove too much for the Villains.
Come on you Lions.