Welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the Premier League meeting between Aston Villa
and Tottenham Hotspur
at Villa Park. The visitors head into this fixture at somewhat of a crossroads in their season following a heavy defeat to Borussia Dortmund three days ago, leaving all their focus solely on league aspirations for the remainder of the campaign.
Villa's hopes of springing a late surge for survival took another battering last time out, meanwhile, as a hefty reverse at the hands of Manchester City has left them nine points from safety heading into the final stretch. Before checking out the two sides in a little more detail ahead of the 3pm kickoff, let us first look at some team news from the West Midlands.
ASTON VILLA XI: Guzan; Hutton, Okore, Lescott, Cissokho; Westwood, Gana; Ayew, Gil, Veretout; Gestede
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR XI: Lloris; Walker, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose; Dier, Dembele, Lamela, Alli, Eriksen; Kane
Starting with a look at the visiting team, and Mauricio Pochettino
has gone with an unchanged XI from last time out in the Premier League. The South American boss somewhat controversially decided to ring the changes in midweek, making seven changes to the side that faced off against Borussia Dortmund, so he will be hoping that his plan does not backfire this afternoon.
was among those considered doubtful for today's clash in the Midlands, but he has overcome an ankle problem in time to feature from the off. Eric Dier has also passed fit, meaning a solid looking starting lineup named by Pochettino - the same XI that picked up a point against arch-rivals Arsenal eight days ago in the Premier League. Danny Rose was the other player with a question mark hanging over him, yet he also takes his place in the side.
While Spurs remain unchanged from eight days ago, Remi Garde
has opted to make three alterations from the side that lost so heavily at Manchester City last time out. Rudy Gestede
has been battling hard for a starting berth, and he is given a chance to impress up top from the off this afternoon where he will be going in search of goal number seven of his maiden top-flight campaign.
Carles Gil and Jores Okore are the two other fresh faces brought into the starting lineup, while Micah Richards, Ciaran Clark and Gabby Agbonlahor all drop out. The Villans are not thought to have had any new injury concerns in the week leading up to this game, but under-fire Garde has a number of key players nursing long-term issues that has only further hampered his selection process.
ASTON VILLA SUBS: Richards, Clark, Bacuna, Sinclair, Green, Bunn, Lyden
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR SUBS: Vorm, Davies, Trippier, Carroll, Chadli, Mason, Son
So Micah Richards is dropped for today's clash at Villa Park, then, making way for Jores Okore in the centre of defence. Scott Sinclair will no doubt feel hugely disappointed that he cannot break into this underperforming side, while youngster Jordan Lyden will be keen to make an impression should he be called upon. The Villans are rock bottom of the division, remember, sitting nine points from safety.
As far as the visitors are concerned, they have Nacer Chadli and Son Heung-min among their attacking back-up options. Pochettino continues with his rotation policy at full-back, meanwhile, meaning that Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies will have to settle for a place on the bench. Goalkeeper Michel Vorm, as ever, provides cover from the bench.
Mauricio Pochettino has made seven changes to his side following on from the 3-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in Europe a few days ago but, perhaps more importantly, it is the same XI that featured from the off against Arsenal last weekend. Dele Alli's recovery from a recent ankle knock picked up is a major boost in particular, as the Lilywhites aim to overcome an Aston Villa side showing three changes from their last outing.
Well the Villa supporters inside the ground this afternoon can be forgiven for giving up hope as far as their survival aspirations are concerned. Bottom of the table and seemingly without a chance in the world, it is now just a case of Garde's charges hoping for the best and picking up points as and when they can - a task easier said than done when your luck is completely out. It really has been a campaign to forget, and one that will almost certainly end in a rare relegation into the second tier.
Villa have won just three games all season, while their recent run shows four defeats on the spin and 15 goals conceded in the process. This is not the Villans' worst barren streak of the campaign, though, as they lost seven on the spin earlier in the term. With nine points remaining, and the gap remaining at nine points, today's fixture really must herald a three-point haul if they are to give themselves any real hope.
In particular, the performances against Liverpool and Manchester City recently left supporters feeling rather embarassed. You will have to go a long way to find such a poor defensive showing, with last weekend's second-half collapse at The Etihad epitomising everything that is currently wrong with the once-proud club. Talk of unrest behind the scenes has made matters even worse, leaving Garde's job in the balance heading into the final few months of the season.
If recent reports are to be believed, Villa could target ex-Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce in the summer. Bruce is a man who knows all about the second tier but, should he lead Hull City back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, you have to wonder if he would really give it all up to take over the sinking ship that is Aston Villa. Preparation for next season may already be underway behind the scenes, with hope of clawing the gap on 17th place diminishing by the week.
DID YOU KNOW? Aston Villa's tally of 16 points after 29 games in the third lowest by any side at this stage in a Premier League campaign. It is worth pointing out, though, that Midlands rivals Leicester City had just three points more this time 12 months ago, before turning around their season and mounting a charge for the league title. You will get pretty incredible odds on the same thing happening at Villa Park.
Defeat today for the home side will make it 20 for the season, equalling their worst-ever tally for a Premier League campaign. That their previous two low points came in the previous two seasons says an awful lot about the direction this club has been heading for quite some time now. While dropping down a division can often help a side regather and rebuild, you have to wonder just how long it will be before we see the Villans back in the big time.
Nevertheless, Remi Garde
is trying his best to remain upbeat and has even suggested that his men can take inspiration from Leicester's incredible turnaround over the past 12 months. With games against Swansea City, Chelsea and Bournemouth to come over the next few weeks - three clubs with little to play for on the face of it - the Frenchman has every right to keep a positive mindset. A win today and who knows? Defeat, on the other hand, and surely that will be the final nail in the coffin.
It has been a difficult period in the managerial career of Remi Garde since taking on the Aston Villa job in November. The Frenchman's first up-close view of his side came in the reverse meeting between these two sides, when the Villans put on a brave late showing before succumbing to an eventual 3-1 defeat at White Hart Lane. The ex-Lyon boss now looks likely to depart in the summer, with Steve Bruce among those reportedly targeted.
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For Spurs, on the other hand, this has been quite some season. Their recent form may be a little shaky - no win in three in all competitions - but still supporters have plenty to be positive about. A recent surprise home loss to Crystal Palace signalled the end of their FA Cup hopes for another year, while Thursday's 3-0 setback at the Westfalenstadion also leaves their European aspirations hanging by a thread, yet the big prize still remains within touching distance - the Premier League title.
Spurs head into this match sitting in second place in the Premier League table, five points off Leicester City who are looking increasingly likely to pull off arguably English football's greatest ever achievement. Usually the Lilywhites would be looking over the shoulders a little at the side in fifth place, but anything less than a top-place finish this term will leave a sour taste in the mouth due to the high expectations.
It was a run of seven wins recently that propelled Spurs in contention on three fronts, but now - realistically speaking - only the Premier League remains. That is not such a bad thing if the club's recent hectic schedule is anything to go by, meaning that all focus can go solely on the league between now and May. Three points today will really put the pressure on leaders Leicester ahead of their Monday night meeting with strugglers Newcastle United.
One point from six in the Prem is hardly great, though, having been edged out by West Ham United and held by another rival side in Arsenal. That the 2-2 stalemate was seen as two points dropped says an awful lot about the direction Pochettino is taking this team, with a top-four berth and a place above the Gunners the very minimum that is expected come the end of play in May. First, though, Spurs desperately need to find some momentum after a sticky spell of late.
It is fair to say that this is a huge point in the Lilywhites' season, as they prepare to face Bournemouth, Liverpool and Manchester United in their next three outings after today. The race to the title will go right down to the wire - as will the battle to finish in the top four - but if we have learned one thing in recent times it is that teams cannot afford to slip-up when the going gets tough. Anything less than a win today really would be a disaster, particularly after rotating the squad so heavily in midweek.
Spurs have managed to keep just three clean sheets in their 14 away games this season, but only 12 goals have been shipped during that period - a very good record. Their loss at Upton Park earlier this month was the first time was the first time Pochettino has tasted defeat on the road since the opening weekend of the season, meanwhile, so playing away is certainly something that Spurs are comfortable with.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Spurs have won seven of the last eight encounters between these two teams, including that aforementioned 3-1 triumph the last time they met in November - a match Remi Garde watched from the stands prior to officially taking charge of the club. Three red cards have been shown in the last five fixtures, also, so expect to see some drama at Villa Park this afternoon.
With kickoff now less than 10 minutes away, let us turn attention to some pre-match thoughts from both camps ahead of this big Premier League showdown.
Remi Garde: "We can survive. If you look at Leicester last season they started to win now - won seven, drew one and lost one. Why can't we do that? We have shown very poor football in previous games but in football you never know how things can go."
Mauricio Pochettino: "We have a big challenge against Aston Villa on Sunday. We are in a very good position in the league and we will do our best."
So, as touched upon a little earlier, Garde is trying his best to remain upbeat at this crucial time in the season. The Frenchman wants his side to take inspiration from the exploits of Leicester, while Pochettino believes that this presents a "big challenge" for his side. Second against 20th certainly does not suggest that, but the Lilywhites have failed to win in their last three.
PREDICTION! Tottenham's tally of 55 points is their highest ever at this stage of a Premier League table, and supporters are now beginning to believe that their five-decade wait for success in the top flight will come to an end this term. Pochettino deserves such huge praise for instilling a winning mentality in his side, but the task is only half complete. Three points are required to put real pressure on Leicester at the top, which I believe they will pick up with a 2-0 victory.
Both sets of players are now out on the field of play, with kickoff just moments away. A very good atmosphere inside Villa Park, perhaps due to home supporters sensing that they can capitalise on the Lilywhites' sticky spell of form to pick up just a fourth league win of the campaign.
KICKOFF! We are officially underway at Villa Park in a vital match for both sides. The hosts need to make up a nine-point deficit at the bottom, while Spurs are desperate to reduce Leicester's lead at the top to just two points.
A bright start for Villa, as Cissokho wins his side an early corner which is met by an offside Gestede. Up the other end some slack defending allows Kane to slot in Eriksen, but Okore got a touch to deny the midfielder getting a shot away.
OFF THE BAR! Less than four minutes on the clock and Spurs have already completely carved their lowly opponents apart. Lamela slotted Kane in perfectly, but the striker got too much contact on the ball when attempting to lift it over an outrushing Guzan and is crashed back off the crossbar.
Eriksen blasts one over the bar as Spurs continue their strong start to this contest. Full-backs Walker and Rose getting incredibly high up the field, looking to get in behind a fragile Villa back four.
SHOT! Lamela and Rose the latest two players to see shots blocked away from around 18 yards out. Spurs with some relentless pressure inside the opening 10 minutes, which has so far seen them strike the upright. Alli sees his tame shot collected by Guzan down the middle.
A welcome respite for Villa, as they win themselves a second corner of the match. Gil was the man to swing the set piece into the box, but it was in a perfect zone for Lloris to come and collect through a sea of bodies.
Veretout races on to Hutton's pass and picks out Gestede, who cannot make any real connection with the ball. Villa's best spell of the game by quite some distance, which the home supporters are audibly delighted with.
Spurs dominated the opening 10 minutes of this match, coming closest to making a breakthrough when Kane hit the bar when left one-on-one with Guzan, but since then Villa have responded well and are now enjoying a prolonged spell in possession.
Gill does very well to win the ball back off Alli in midfield, which again the home supporters are delighted to see. Gestede is unable to hold up the ball up on the edge of the box, though, leading to more than a few groans. Spurs struggling to get a grip on proceedings at the moment.
An evenly-matched contest over the past 10 minutes at Villa Park, but the visitors almost struck a killer blow when Eriksen took range from 25 yards out. His strike had far too much swerve on it, though, and ended well wide of Guzan's goal in the end.
A decent enough start to the game by Villa, but they have still yet to have a single attempt on goal of any note. Spurs, in contrast, have had six goal attempts already in the opening quarter of the match - hitting the crossbar once and also testing Guzan on one occasion.
Villa win themselves yet another corner, which is looking most likely to be their route through this afternoon. Gestede conceded a free kick when leaping for the ball, however, bringing this latest home attack to an end.
SAVE! Kane has another great chance to open the scoring at Villa Park, but his shot from a central position inside the box is kept out by the leg of Guzan. Rose picked the striker out pretty much unmarked but, while it was hardly the easiest of openings, Kane failed to convert.
SAVE! Yet another big stop made by Guzan to again keep out Kane. The Englishman picked up the ball on the left and was allowed to race into the box, only to see his attempt saved by the Villa stopper who made himself really big.
Harry Kane, sporting a facial mask once more this afternoon, has wasted three big openings for Spurs already inside the opening third of this contest. Villa have looked fairly lively at times, without being able to get away a single shot of any sort.
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A more ambitious attempt from Kane on this occasion, as he unleashes a shot wide of goal from more than 30 yards out. The Lilywhites turning the screw a little now, desperately seeking a goal prior to the interval.
OFF THE POST! The ball just will not go into the net for the visitors; Lamela becoming the latest to be denied by the post. Walker was given acres of space down the right to pick out his teammate, but Lamela failed to convert from a few yards out largely thanks to a small touch from Guzan to help the ball onto the upright.
SHOT! It is very much one-way traffic now in the West Midlands, as Walker capitalises on the space afforded to him by carrying the ball and blasting a shot away on goal which Guzan does well to keep hold of. The American stopper keeping his side in this one.
Spurs still knocking the ball around with ease, pretty much teasing their opponents in the final third. No clear-cut chances since Lamela hit the post, though, with Villa trying their best to block out the visitors.
SHOT! Gana draws Walker into a foul deep on the left-hand side of the pitch, providing a rare chance for Villa to get the ball into the box. It was a decent delivery, too, which Gestede side-footed into the grateful hands of Lloris. The Villans will not get many better openings than that.
Normal service resumed, as Spurs win themselves a corner. Guzan easily collected the whipped in cross, however, taking some more pressure off his side in the process. For all off the Lilywhites' chance, they could so easily had been behind if Gestede had placed his volley either side of Lloris a few minutes ago.
So two minutes to go until the interval and we remain goalless at Villa Park. Westwood is currently receiving some treatment on the field of play, allowing Pochettino to get a message across to a few of his players.
GOAL! ASTON VILLA 0-1 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (HARRY KANE)
A cruel blow for Villa, who concede with just 60 seconds of added time left to play of this first half. It is goal number 18 in the Premier League for Harry Kane
this season, as he is played in by the quick thinking of Dele Alli from a free kick in midfield and tucks the ball into the bottom corner from a fairly tight angle. Great finish!
HALF TIME: ASTON VILLA 0-1 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Villa put up a real fight in that first half, but with the 45 minutes of normal time up Harry Kane finally made a breakthrough with his well-taken finish beyond star man Guzan. The goal had lived a charmed life of sorts up until that point, as the Lilywhites struggled to get the ball over the line despite dominating for large parts.
Just four minutes had been played when Kane struck the crossbar after being played in by Lamela, while the in-form forward also saw an attempt kept out by the Villa keeper 20 minutes in from a central position eight yards out. Dele Alli tested Guzan with a somewhat weaker effort prior to that, but the Villans remained strong for the opening quarter of the match.
Kane vs. Guzan act 3 saw the latter thwart his direct rival yet again just short of the half-hour mark, after the Englishman cut in from the left before getting a shot on goal. Lamela then became the second Spurs player to hit the post, failing to direct Walker's cross past an inspired home keeper. The Villans did have a chance to open the scoring themselves when Gestede's side-footed strike was well handed by Lloris.
Then came the killer blow deep in the half provided by Kane, who kept his cool to finally open the scoring for his side. Could we see any changes at the break? Let us remind us of the options available to both managers.
ASTON VILLA SUBS: Richards, Clark, Bacuna, Sinclair, Green, Bunn, Lyden
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR SUBS: Vorm, Davies, Trippier, Carroll, Chadli, Mason, Son
A positive start to the second half for Villa, but Walker is quick to charge down Gana's effort. No changes made by either side at the interval.
GOAL! ASTON VILLA 0-2 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (HARRY KANE)
Kane has a second goal of the afternoon to surely move Spurs to within two points of the summit. It was a similar route to the opener, as Ali picked out his compatriot - this time from a right-sided cross - allowing Kane to adjust his body slightly to fire into the roof of the net.
Spurs will perhaps now have one eye on their goal difference. They boast the best tally out of any side in the race for the title, but they will be keen to strengthen that today. Villa, much like we witnessed against Liverpool and Man City, ship two goals in quick succession to see the game pass them by.
Really touch to see where Villa go from here, not just in the short term this afternoon but for the remainder of the campaign. Surely just a case of damage limitation, perhaps, as they go from one defeat to another. Spurs really enjoying themselves now.
No real urgency in the match now following that second Spurs goal. The onus is on Villa to get forward, but they are a little reluctant to do so knowing that another thrashing could be on the cards.
SAVE! Villa fans making a brilliant noise at the moment, which is great to see. Second best once more on the field of play today - so far, anyway - but they are seemingly happy with what they have seen so far. That may have changed had Walker added a third goal from his powerful strike, which Guzan turned behind.
Villa coming out of their shell a little more over the past few minutes, perhaps spurred on by the noise being generated from home supporters. Spurs, rather inevitably, pounce on the gaps at the other end with Lamela driving a shot wide.
ASTON VILLA SUB! An interesting sub for the Villans, as Andre Green is handed his Premier League debut in place of Veretout. A sign of where Villa currently are, with this a proud moment for the youngster on an otherwise disappointing day.
Walker sees his latest attempt blocked as we enter the final 17 minutes or so of this match. Pochettino may now be thinking about a change or two to further freshen things up, although a third goal may be required before that happens.
Ayew battles hard in the final third of the pitch but comes out second best in his tussle with Rose. A Villa goal will change the complexion of this match completely, yet that seems a million miles away at this stage in proceedings.
Harry Kane's double is the difference between these two sides heading into the final quarter of the match. Aston Villa plugging away valiantly, but Spurs not having to move out of first gear since going two ahead.
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A minor worry for Spurs here, as Rose picks up a knock and stays down. Ben Davies is the obvious replacement, and it is unlikely that Pochettino will take any risks with this game essentially wrapped up.
ASTON VILLA SUB! Scott Sinclair will provide some fresh legs for Villa in attack, coming on in place of Carles Gil. No sign of Davies yet, as Gestede volleys wide to give the visitors just a little warning.
It has been quite a bland second half in truth, with that second Kane goal very much taking any nerves Spurs may have had out of the equation. Seen little in terms of goalmouth action, with a rare Walker strike the closest we have come to a third.
CLOSE! Lamela latches on to a loose ball just inside the box, getting away a shot which deflects narrowly wide of the post. Pretty much as good as things have got for either side since Kane's second goal.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR SUB! Eriksen fires high over the bar just moments before being hauled off. Tom Carroll the man to replace him in the engine room for these final 13 minutes of the match.
Still very little action in the final third, with this one badly petering out now. Both sides will be happy to hear the full-time whistle sound, meaning Spurs will close the gap on Leicester to just the two points.
Villa enjoying a good spell in possession, but Ayew is caught offside to see their rare attack come to a halt. "We want Lerner out!" is now the cry from frustrated home supporters - those who have remained in the ground, anyway.
Another offside call goes against the Villans, as a frustrated Garde watches on. Not a terrible showing by his side this afternoon by any means, yet they lack that killer edge in attack which is costing them dear.
OFF THE BAR! Quite how Villa have not pulled a goal back I do not know. Ayew was the first to hit the post as he weaved his way into the box before being denied by the upright, before Gestede fired the rebound against the woodwork from just a few yards out. Shocking miss from the striker.
I tell you what, Villa are really turning up the pressure now which could set up a tense finale. One goal is all they need and all of a sudden a few of those Spurs players will really begin to panic.
Lloris pulls off a superb stop to deny Lescott at the back post, but the offside flag was already up on the far side. Regardless of that, the centre-back really should have been converting when left unmarked just a couple of yards out.
Spurs looking to run the clock down a little now, perhaps learning from their let-off a little earlier. Two more minutes of added time to come in the West Midlands.
FULL TIME: ASTON VILLA 0-2 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
The referee blows for full time to bring the game to a close. It was pretty much over as a contest the moment Harry Kane scored his second of the afternoon, taking his personal tally to 19 for the season and now level with Jamie Vardy
in the Premier League scoring charts. More importantly for Spurs, the win takes them to within two points of leaders Leicester.
For a doomed Villa side, on the other hand, they remain nine points from safety with one less game to play. Well that concludes Sports Mole's live text coverage of events from the West Midlands, but be sure to stick around as we bring you reaction aplenty from Villa Park.