MX23RW : Thursday, April 18 19:01:30| >> :600:101007446:101007446:
Feb 6, 2016 at 3pm UK at ​Villa Park
Aston Villa
NorwichNorwich City
Klose (45' og.), Agbonlahor (51')
FT(HT: 1-0)

Preview: Aston Villa vs. Norwich City

Sports Mole previews Saturday's relegation battle between Aston Villa and Norwich City at Villa Park.

Two teams in the bottom four will go head to head in a relegation battle this weekend as Aston Villa host Norwich City at Villa Park.

The hosts appear to be dead and buried, with 10 points separating them from safety, but Norwich are just about keeping their heads above water and will be looking to clinch an invaluable victory.

Aston Villa

Remi Garde is perpetually baffled during the Premier League game between West Ham and Aston Villa on February 2, 2016© Getty Images

It is not often we see a team resign themselves to a negative fate before it is mathematically confirmed. Usually the practice is to fight until the bitter end and make every effort to avoid what may seem like the inevitable.

On the outside, that remains the case for Villa. Club captain Micah Richards has insisted that they will not give up, and no-one from the club has publicly admitted that relegation looms.

In this case, though, it was a lack of action that spoke volumes. Villa were one of only three Premier League teams not to sign anyone during the January transfer window, when they are arguably the team most in need of reinforcements.

Their apparent inertia was made all the more worrying by those around them doing what the Villa fans would have expected from their own team. With the new TV money coming in, there has never been a worse time to be relegated from the Premier League, and the likes of Newcastle United, Swansea City, Sunderland and Norwich all splashed the cash to strengthen accordingly.

Villa, meanwhile, remained stagnant. The only action from the board appeared to be the raising of white flags, surrendering themselves to relegation with 14 matches of the season still remaining.

From a business standpoint, any further investment in the squad would have been a big risk. Substantial money would have needed to be spent to stand any chance of overturning the 10-point gap between themselves and safety, and failure to then stay up could have resulted in significantly more damaging long-term effects than relegation without investment might do.

Some understanding can be afforded to the owners, then, but from the point of view of the fans, players and even the manager, things must look bleaker now than ever. Remi Garde made no secret of his disappointment in the lack of incomings and is understood to be considering his future as a result.

He may not be the only one considering his future, though. The results in his tenure have not exactly put him in a strong bargaining position, and that continued with their 15th defeat of the season at West Ham United on Tuesday night.

Villa didn't exactly help themselves when Jordan Ayew was rightly shown a red card after just 17 minutes for a senseless elbow on Aaron Cresswell, and that eventually allowed a below-par West Ham to grind out a 2-0 victory in a match that Villa may have got a point from had it stayed 11 vs. 11.

It leaves them stuck on 13 points after 24 games, the joint-third lowest tally at this stage of a Premier League season ever, and all of their predecessors in that list have unsurprisingly gone on to finish bottom of the table.

There are unlikely to be many home comforts for Villa either. The fans are once again expected to voice their displeasure at the board, while on the field Villa have amassed just seven points at home - five fewer than the next-worst home record in the division.

They have only scored eight home goals in their 11 outings too, and things will not get any easier for them. Their next four home league outings after this weekend see them come up against Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.

In the midst of all that are away ties against the likes of Stoke City and Manchester City, and it would take the greatest of escapes if Villa were to salvage their status as a Premier League ever-present after that run of fixtures.

Recent form: LLWDDL
Recent form (all competitions): WDWDLL


Alex Neil barks from the sidelines during the game between Spurs and Norwich on December 26, 2015© Getty Images

For all of Villa's troubles - and you can be sure that they would swap with Norwich given the chance - it is actually the Canaries who come into this match in the worse form.

They have lost their last five games in all competitions and have conceded at least three goals in all of those defeats, letting in 17 overall.

Only Sunderland have conceded more than Alex Neil's side this season, so it may come as a relief that this weekend sees them come up against the division's lowest scorers.

Back-to-back victories either side of the New Year, which included a win over Saturday's opponents, had given Norwich a bit of breathing space in the battle against relegation, but the gap to the bottom three is now just two points.

The board erred on the other side to Villa when it came to the January investment gamble, bringing in the likes of Steven Naismith, Timm Klose and Matt Jarvis in multi-million pound moves, with the former having already opened his account for the club.

Klose was making his debut on Tuesday night as Norwich welcomed Tottenham Hotspur to Carrow Road, but the English pair of Dele Alli and Harry Kane ensured that Spurs left East Anglia with a 3-0 victory.

That was their third consecutive home defeat in all competitions, but it is on the road where their main problems have arisen this season. They have won just one of their last 12 away outings and, including penalties, have lost eight of the last nine.

Only the bottom three have fared worse away from home in the league this season, and only Sunderland have conceded more than the 28 goals shipped by the Canaries on their travels. Indeed, Norwich are the only side in the league yet to keep an away clean sheet.

If they were to ever get one, though, it would be this weekend, and with matches against West Ham, Leicester City and Chelsea next up, three points at Villa Park could prove vital.

Recent form: WWLLLL
Recent form (all competitions): WLLLLL

Team News

Jordan Ayew sees red during the Premier League game between West Ham and Aston Villa on February 2, 2016© Getty Images

Already struggling for goals, Villa will be without their top scorer Ayew this weekend as he begins his three-match ban for his elbow in midweek.

Behind him in the scoring charts is Rudy Gestede, but he too may be unavailable for Saturday's match due to a hamstring strain.

Indeed, there are question marks over a number of players, with Ashley Westwood, Alan Hutton, Carlos Sanchez and Libor Kazak all facing late fitness tests ahead of the weekend.

Norwich will also be missing a key player through suspension, with Alexander Tettey picking up his 10th yellow card of the season against Spurs.

New boys Klose, Ivo Pinto, Jarvis and Naismith all played on Tuesday night, and fellow January arrival Patrick Bamford will be hopeful of joining the party this weekend.

Neil's only other concerns are over Robbie Brady and Graham Dorrans, who are both slight doubts due to illness but should be fit to play.

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Bunn; Richards, Okore, Lescott, Cissokho; Bacuna, Gueye, Gil, Veretout; Agbonlahor, Sinclair

Norwich possible starting lineup:
Rudd; Ivo Pinto, Klose, Bassong, Brady; Howson, Hoolahan, Mulumbu, Redmond; Naismith; Mbokani

Head To Head

Aston Villa are unbeaten in their last six meetings with Norwich in front of their own fans, including a 4-1 triumph here the last time the Canaries visited.

However, Norwich ran out 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture a little over a month ago, and another victory this weekend would see them do the league double over Villa for the first time since 1992-93.

Norwich's last win here came in November of that season, when they blew a two-goal lead but then scored a 49th-minute winner in a 3-2 Premier League victory.

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We say: Aston Villa 0-1 Norwich

Both sides are in dreadful form coming into this match, and it should be an interesting battle between Villa's misfiring attack and Norwich's leaky defence. However, the main difference could end up being the fact that Norwich still feel that they have something to fight for, while Villa look resigned to their fate.

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Micah Richards of Aston Villa looks on during the pre season friendly between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa at Molineux on July 28, 2015
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