Weblog: The football punter

Aston Villa should push closer to promotion

Sky Bet Championship
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Aston Villa have given themselves an opportunity to push for automatic promotion and they can march on to another three Sky Bet Championship points when injury-ravaged Leeds visit Villa Park.

Villa have five points to make up on Fulham, which is a tough task with four matches remaining, but it remains achievable following their dramatic 1-0 success over promotion rivals Cardiff on Tuesday.

Things should be easier against Leeds and backing Villa to cover a one-goal Asian handicap makes sense with Steve Bruce's side still looking to improve their goal difference in an increasingly tight battle.

Villa's task has been made easier by the absence of so many Leeds players through injury and suspension. Academy centre-backs Paudie O'Connor and Hugo Diaz are set to be the heart of the visiting defence.

Leeds have won only two of their last 19 matches anyway, and the pressure is already building on former Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom, who was an unpopular choice when he joined from Oakwell in February and is even less welcome now following some bizarre team selections.

Samu Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga were among the substitutes for Tuesday's 3-1 loss at Preston and few expect Heckingbottom to hang around next season.

Villa are not at full-strength themselves with John Terry unavailable yet there is enough depth to the replacements with Mile Jedinak partnering James Chester for that vital victory over Cardiff.

Jack Grealish was the eventual Villa hero and he is part of a quartet of attacking players who will be licking their lips at the prospect of tackling a makeshift Leeds back four.

Grealish, Robert Snodgrass and Albert Adomah offer great ability behind Lewis Grabban, while there are also options off the bench should Bruce need to change things with Henri Lansbury, Scott Hogan, Jonathan Kodjia and Josh Onomah among the subs.

Villa have won seven of their last nine home Championship contests and that includes triumphs over third-placed Cardiff and leaders Wolves, so they can be trusted in big-match environments.

Last week's 3-1 defeat at Norwich was a poor performance, although that was at Carrow Road and Villa tend to do most of their best work at home, much like Leeds.

United have collected just three points (draws at Hull, Derby and Reading) since their last road success at Burton on Boxing Day, conceding at least twice in each of their last six on their travels.

Heckingbottom could be left facing more difficult questions about his suitability to the role after this tough trip.

Aston Villa -1 on Asian handicap

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Match in Focus


Sampdoria v Sassuolo

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Sassuolo are unbeaten in their last three against Sampdoria
Expert verdict
Sampdoria have the best defensive record this season in Italy, conceding just four goals in all competitions but they may struggle to beat a decent Sassuolo side. Samp's top scorer Gregoire Defrel will no doubt be eager to notch against his former club, although Sassuolo's only defeats this season have come at Juventus and Napoli and at home to Milan.