BILLY BUNTER

Weblog: The football punter

Blades could have edge in entertaining clash

Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Friday

The Sky Bet Championship’s hottest shots, Tammy Abraham and Billy Sharp, go toe-to-toe at Villa Park but the absence of a third star player might be more significant.

Aston Villa have lost their way over the last couple of months while Jack Grealish has been sidelined nursing the most kicked shins in the second tier.

Dean Smith’s men have won just two of their 11 matches since Grealish limped out of a 2-2 draw with West Brom on December 7 and their playoff aspirations have nosedived in his absence.

Villa were three points adrift of Sheffield United and the playoff places in early December but two months later they trail the Blades by 11.

Grealish is a couple of weeks away from a return and Villa's fans and backers are counting down the days.

For now, get on Chris Wilder’s Blades at 17-10 to win the game and, for a few hours at least, assume top spot in the division.

Villa are the section’s greatest entertainers, especially at home where their matches have yielded four goals per game. Only Norwich and West Brom have scored more goals than Smith’s side but only Rotherham and Ipswich have conceded more.

In 19-goal Abraham they boast a marksman at the top of his game and he has stepped up in Grealish’s absence, scoring eight goals in his last nine matches.

They drew a rare blank last time out, when they were held 0-0 at Reading, but that looks to have been a freak result. Both teams have scored in 20 of their 30 league games with over 2.5 goals in 19.

Villa have won only one of their last seven at home, and that was against the division’s whipping boys, Ipswich.

This should all encourage United into thinking they can take the points at Villa Park.

They have their own red-hot goal-getter in Billy Sharp. He has bagged eight goals in his last eight league games and has already found the net against Villa this term with the last goal in a 4-1 home romp at Bramall Lane in September.

United have bounced back from a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Swansea with an excellent point in a 2-2 draw at Norwich before beating Bolton 2-0. Sharp scored in both games.

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Match in Focus

17:30 TODAY BT1

Leicester v C Palace

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Palace have won their last three meetings with Leicester by an aggregate of 9-0.
Expert verdict
Crystal Palace boast a fine recent record against Leicester and should continue their dominance. The Eagles have fought their way up to 13th while Leicester are fading fast, taking just one point from the last 15 on offer – everything points to another Palace defeat of the Foxes.