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Aston Villa preview and pub guide: Boxing Day kick-off time not the perfect present

Aston Villa preview and pub guide: Boxing Day kick-off time not the perfect present

The visit of Aston Villa is one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the campaign – rare opponents at Griffin Park and Scott Hogan’s return – but the build-up to this season’s meeting has been overshadowed by the move of the fixture to Boxing Day evening.

Sky decided to shift the game so it could be shown live on TV and threw many fans’ Christmas plans into turmoil.

It is impossible to predict how many Bees or Villa fans will be at GP on Tuesday night, but what would have been a near sell-out at its original 2pm slot is unlikely to be so now.

It’s a shame for the club that this has happened – but the players must now concentrate on trying to repeat the magnificent performance against Villa at the end of January.

In one of our best displays of the season we beat them 3-0 (more details below) at the same time as Scott Hogan was in the Midlands leaving us to sign for them.

In fact, we are unbeaten in three meetings with them in the Championship – with that victory following a 1-1 draw at Villa Park the previous September and being followed by our goalless draw there this autumn.

Villa are making a proper promotion push this season, after finding their feet in their first campaign at this level for 29 years last time around.

Our visitors are sixth in the table at the halfway stage, hanging on to the final play-off spot on goal difference from Sheffield United – who hit back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Villa Park on Saturday, thanks to two goals from ex-Bee Clayton Donaldson.

That was Villa’s fourth game without a win, after a run of nine victories in 13 matches had lifted them from 18th to fourth spot.

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Their away record this season has produced four wins (Barnsley 3-0, Burton 4-0, Preston 2-0 and QPR 2-1), three draws and four defeats.

At Villa Park they have won six matches, drawn five and only lost once – 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday at the start of last month.

Villa’s visit means Scott Hogan’s first return to Griffin Park since moving to the Midlands at the end of January.

Scott has had a tough time since his transfer, suffering various injury lay-offs and being used more as a substitute than a starter.

This season he has started four Championship games, and come on as a substitute in 12 more, without finding the net, although he has scored three times in three Carabao Cup ties.

Last season he was in the line-up for nine league matches, and came off the bench four times – scoring his only Championship goal to date in a 2-0 win at Wigan in March.

Scott had a phenomenal scoring rate in his time at Griffin Park – scoring 21 league goals in 27 full and six substitute appearances after his long injury lay-off.

Fourteen of those came in 25 games last season, before his move.

WHO’S IN CHARGE

Steve Bruce was appointed as Aston Villa boss in October 2016, the eighth different club he has managed.

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The former Manchester United captain has taken charge of more than 800 games in stints with Sheffield United, Huddersfield, Wigan (two spells), Crystal Palace, Birmingham, Sunderland and Hull.

He has won promotion to the Premier League four times – twice with Birmingham and twice with Hull, who he also led to the FA Cup final.

As a player, he spent most of his career with United, winning three Premier League titles, three FA Cups, a League Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup, while he also spent time with Gillingham, Norwich, Birmingham and Sheffield United.

LAST SEASON/THIS SEASON

John Egan scored a late goal to give us a 1-1 draw in our first league match at Villa Park for 70 years last September.

Jonathan Kodjia had given Villa the lead with his first goal for the club in the 19th minute, but Bees substitute Sullay Kaikai sent in a deep cross two minutes from time and Egan fired home from close range to earn us a point.

The return at Griffin Park was a highly-charged evening as, with Scott Hogan in the Midlands signing for our visitors, Brentford produced a superb performance to win 3-0 and record our first-ever victory over Villa.

Lasse Vibe gave us the lead after being set up by Nico Yennaris, who doubled the lead himself before half-time. Vibe hit his second. and the Bees’ third, midway through the second half.

In this season’s first meeting, the Bees earned a 0-0 draw at Villa Park in a match we could have won.

Villa keeper Sam Johnstone was the home side’s hero – twice denying Ollie Watkins, while Nico Yennaris, Yoann Barnet and Neal Maupay all went close.

OPPOSITION VIEW

BBC WM Sport’s Mark Regan takes a look at Villa’s season, predicts January transfer activity and gives us a fascinating insight into Scott Hogan’s time at Villa Park.

Q – What were the general expectations from Villa fans at the start of the season – a play-off/promotion push, a mid-table campaign or a relegation battle – and why?

A – Villa fans were expecting promotion this season – still are. There had been significant turnover of players in both January and the summer months and this season was all about getting into the Premier League.

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The signing of John Terry was a huge statement of intent while securing Sam Johnstone on loan for the season from Manchester United was also warmly welcomed by the Villa faithful. So overall the squad was generally thought to be better than last season’s so expectations were duly set on the top two, if not the title.

Q –  How would you assess Villa’s season so far?

A – Frustrating as injuries to key players have blighted the season so far – Mile Jedinak and Jack Grealish were missing from the start of the campaign while John Terry and Jon Kodjia have both been missing for long spells (Kodjia is as good as out for the season).  So that hasn’ helped, along with a slow start it’s always left Villa chasing rather than leading the race.

They did get some momentum going in October and November that has at least put them in the top six but still Steve Bruce has his eyes on the automatic promotion places. Although he needs his players fit sooner rather than later!

Q – With the season now at its halfway point, how do you think the campaign will eventually pan out for Villa?

A – I still think the second half of the season should see Villa push for the top two. Players will return (Kodjia aside) and they should have the experience and quality to be able to maintain the form required when spring comes around. The challenge between then and now is to keep the points board ticking over while the injured players recover – plus a decent loan move for a striker in January could prove crucial.

Q – What sort of squad strengthening do you expect Villa to do next month?

A – A striker!! There`s been a handful of games this season when Steve Bruce has only had one fit striker (19-year-old Keinan Davis) to choose from and he knows he needs to replace the 19 goals scored by Jonathan Kodjia last season if they are to achieve their goal.

Q – How is Scott Hogan doing? When fit, he rarely seems to start and some Villa fans I was chatting to after the game at Villa Park in September suggested he struggles to score because of Villa’s system and because he is being played out of position.

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A – Scott Hogan’s move hasn’t worked out as either he or Villa would have wanted. He’s had injuries and has also been the victim of a system that never seemed to get the best out of him. As a result his first team opportunities have been limited and he`s never had a run in the side – so his confidence has also taken a knock.

To be fair to the player it’s hard to have an informed opinion about him for the reasons stated and whether it ever happens for him at Villa may be in question too – sometimes transfers don’t work out and at the moment it looks that way for Hogan at Villa.

Q – Which Villa players should we watch out for?

A – Jack Grealish is back in the team and fit after a freak injury to his kidney last season resulted in a long lay-off. He’s caught the eye in recent games (especially at Derby) and is one of a few players that could be crucial in the second half of the season along with Mile Jedinak and John Terry.

Q – Which Bees players will Fulham be wary of?

A – Ryan Woods has been a player that has caught the eye of Villa fans in all of the recent meetings between these two sides. He’s a player that started off up here in the Midlands and each time I’ve seen him play he’s given Villa problems, the meeting at Griffin Park last season was a case in point when Brentford ran out deserved winners after a fine display – Woods was instrumental that night. 

Q – Finally, are you able to give me a possible Villa starting line-up and formation too please?

A – My best guess

Johnstone

Elmomahady Chester Jedinak Taylor

Snodgrass Whelan Hourihane Adomah

Grealish

Davis

IAN WESTBROOK

@ianwestbrook

PUBS IN BRENTFORD

For Aston Villa fans coming to the game, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).

We are now back to the traditional four pubs around the ground, following the reopening of the Royal Oak.

The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the Royal Oak are the other options.

Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.

The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields. The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles.

There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave)– right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.

There is a pub right by Brentford station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.

For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push.

The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge with a beer deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel.

A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.

BOXING DAY TRAVEL

Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.

Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.

This is relatively straight forward but can actually take longer than if you get the tube due to waiting times (overground trains come every 15 mins and the journey from Vauxhall or Waterloo to Brentford is 30 mins on the fast train – 51 mins on the slow train – so you could find it takes you over an hour including the journey from King’s Cross/Euston/Paddington).

Public transport is restricted because of Boxing Day – you can find out what tube lines are running here.

Depdending on which stations are open on the day, many fans choose the tube over the Overground. It’s 35 minutes to Northfields station from Kings Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Brentford from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford pub crawl outlined above (Plough, Lord Nelson, Globe, Griffin) of course. If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops).

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About The Author

Ian Westbrook

Bees fan since 1971 - been through all the ups and downs. Written about, reported on, commentated on and wittered on about all things Brentford in that time as well as watching hundreds, if not thousands of games, and loved every minute of it!

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