The Sky Bet Championship is in full swing as we move further into October, with a quick turnaround in fixtures meaning The Lions are now preparing to face Aston Villa at The Den on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3pm).
Villa have endured a whirlwind 48 hours since a thrilling 3-3 draw with Preston North End at Villa Park on Tuesday night, having parted company with manager Steve Bruce – now under the temporary caretaker charge of U23 manager Kevin MacDonald.
Neil Harris’ Lions approach the game in good spirits, having recovered from two goals down to salvage a much-deserved 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on Wednesday night, putting in a dominant performance against Aitor Karanka’s team.
Aston Villa are one of England’s most successful clubs, having enjoyed a multitude of domestic and continental silverware. Since their establishment 143 years ago, Villa have won seven English League titles – most recently in 1981, seven FA Cups, five League Cups and even one European Cup.
The ‘claret and blue’ side of Birmingham enjoyed the majority of their success in their early years, but until 2016 were a consistent top-flight side and won two League Cups in the space of two years in the 1990s. In 1982, Villa became champions of Europe after beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in the Cup Final in Rotterdam. The club reached the FA Cup Final in 2015, and the League Cup Final in 2010 – keeping them in qualification for the Europa League, where they had previously been due to three successive top-six finishes in the Premier League.
Following their European exploits, Villa declined and could only manage several bottom-half finishes, before suffering relegation to The Championship two years ago – bringing an end to a 28-year spell at the top level. After a 13th-placed finish in 2016/17, the club came fourth and reached the Play-Off Final last season under Bruce, defeated by Fulham at Wembley.
Ones to Watch
John McGinn (7) has made a positive impression at Villa Park since moving south from Hibernian in the summer. The Scotland midfielder made over 100 appearances during his time in Edinburgh along with winning the Scottish League Cup in 2016, and has slotted straight into the team as a player comfortable both on and off the ball. McGinn possesses a keen eye for a pass, and his shooting range was demonstrated in emphatic style last month when he volleyed home a certain Goal of the Season contender against Sheffield Wednesday. The 23-year-old made his senior Scotland debut two years ago and has shown his potential to be a top-level central player, now testing himself in one of Europe’s most physical leagues. Glaswegian McGinn came through the youth system at St. Mirren, and spent three years in the first team before his move to Hibs in 2015.
Jack Grealish (10) has been one of the standout performers in a talented Villa team of late – and has shown more than a few shades of some fantastic potential ahead of his peak years. The forward and attacking midfielder recently penned a new long-term contract following interest from Premier League clubs, and last season surpassed 100 appearances in a claret and blue shirt. Seemingly around for many years, local lad and academy graduate Grealish has only recently turned 23 and has represented both England and the Republic of Ireland at U21 level. Agile on the ball, a good link player and a general nuisance for defenders, Grealish possesses the confidence and ability to become a Villa legend.
Jonathan Kodjia (26) was brought to Villa Park in 2016 after a successful English debut season with Bristol City, in which he hit the 20-goal mark. The Ivory Coast international has hit four goals so far this season, and has shown his ability as a natural finisher in the penalty area. Kodjia started his senior career in 2008 with French outfit Reims, and gained experience in Ligue 2 with clubs such as Cherbourg, Amiens and Caen. A move to Angers proved successful for the striker, scoring 15 in 28 League matches and earning the 2015 Ligue 2 Player of the Year award as the side won promotion to the French top flight. Bristol City captured the player, and one season was enough for Villa to put their faith in the Ivorian as their primary forward option. Maintaining a regular ratio in a claret and blue shirt, Kodjia has also hit an average of one goal in two for his national side, for whom he obtained his first senior cap in June 2016.
In the Dugout
Kevin MacDonald will be in caretaker charge for our visitors at the weekend following Bruce’s sacking on Wednesday. MacDonald has previously taken temporary stewardship of the first team on a number of occasions, notably following the departures of Martin O’Neill and Tim Sherwood. The Scotsman has enjoyed managerial experience of his own, taking over at Swindon Town for several months in 2013, guiding The Robins into the League One Play-Off places. MacDonald has held numerous different positions at Villa since 1995, joining the club following a short spell with Leicester City. The 57-year-old has taken the reins at the reserve side, had a spell as assistant manager and more recently coached the club’s U23s, and was number two to Steve Staunton with the Republic of Ireland national side between 2006 and 2007. In his playing career, the former midfielder played most prominently for Leicester, and also turned out for Liverpool and Walsall before hanging up his boots in 1993.