Friday, March 14, 2008

Pompey-Villa Looms Large Tomorrow

With all the hype surrounding the respective Champions League and UEFA Cup draws today, the Premiership seems to be flying under the radar a little bit and one game in particular tomorrow has huge implications.

Portsmouth will welcome fellow UEFA Cup spot hopeful Aston Villa to Fratton Park and the hosts are playing very well at the moment, having won five out of their last six games in all competitions. Jermain Defoe has been great for Pompey with five goals in as many league games since moving to the South Coast in January. His team is in 7th place in the league right now, just two points behind Villa, and they won 3-1 at Villa Park earlier in the season.

'Arry Redknapp is a very underrated manager in my opinion. This is a man who saved Pompey from near-certain relegation two seasons ago when he took the reins in mid-season and has compiled a 42-35-24 record in his second stint in charge at Portsmouth. While this doesn't look too impressive in itself, remember, Redknapp has had to rebuild this team and was only given significant financial backing to buy players last summer; he really had to create something out of nothing in the season and a half before and Pompey still finished 9th in '06-'07.

Similarly, Martin O'Neill hasn't had as much money to work with as he'd like at Aston Villa but has still done an impressive job this season with one of the smallest (in terms of numbers, not size) rosters in the Premiership. It's very likely that Randy Lerner, Villa's American owner, will be willing to spend more money in the summer but for now, O'Neill is winning with essentially an England U-23 roster. He's got young guys like Premiership assist leader Ashley Young, who I've been banging the drum for before it was fashionable to do so, Gabby Agbonlahor, Scott Carson, Nigel Reo-Coker, Craig Gardner, and the now-injured Curtis Davies who have all been integral pieces to the puzzle this season, mixed in with some good, useful veteran players like John Carew, Martin Laursen, and Gareth Barry.

Villa has lost only once in their last eight league games, although four of those matches have been draws. As I said earlier, they lost to Portsmouth 3-1 at home earlier in the season and really can't afford to lose again tomorrow. Pompey has the same number of ties (7) at Fratton Park as they do wins and losses at home combined, and Villa's road record is the exact same (5-7-2).

The numbers scream "draw" tomorrow, but I'm going to go with a 2-1 victory for Portsmouth, which would vault them into 6th place, six points behind Everton pending the Toffees' away match at Fulham on Sunday.

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