In the space of two weeks, Crystal Palace have gone some way to securing Premier League safety. A run of five games without a win had threatened to drag Tony Pulis’ team back into trouble but immediate fears were allayed with a surprise home victory over Chelsea at the end of March and a convincing 3-0 win at struggling Cardiff City last weekend. As a result, Palace enter Saturday’s game in 14th place, level on points with Saturday’s visitors and seven points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand on four of the teams below them.
The impact Pulis has made since arriving at Selhurst Park cannot be underestimated. Before he was appointed manager, Palace had won just twice in the Premier League all season. By comparison, they have taken three points in eight of his first 20 league games in charge. A major reason for the upturn in form is the improvement in Palace’s defence. They had kept only two clean sheets prior to Pulis’ appointment but have stopped the opposition from scoring in 40 per cent of the games he has taken charge of. Palace have conceded less league goals than Liverpool and Arsenal, and, of all teams in the bottom half of the table, only Norwich City have kept more clean sheets. That defensive solidarity has been especially vital as Palace have scored less goals than any other Premier League team. Last week’s win at Cardiff was only the fourth time that the south London side have scored at least twice in a league game this season.
Aston Villa are, like Palace, not yet safe. Successive wins over Norwich and Chelsea lifted the mood around Villa Park in mid-March but three straight losses followed. Inconsistency has blighted Villa’s season - aside from beating Jose Mourinho’s side last month, they also won at Arsenal and at home to Manchester City earlier in the season. But Paul Lambert’s side have not built on those performances and have only won back-to-back fixtures on two occasions this season.
Top scorer Christian Benteke is out for the season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury. The Belgian international has scored more than a quarter of Villa’s league goals in 2013/14 and had found the net three times in his last four appearances. Grant Holt replaced him and scored in the recent loss against Fulham and the striker is likely to spearhead Villa’s attack at Selhurst Park too.
A win for either side on Saturday could be enough to ensure another season in the Premier League while defeat would leave fans and players alike looking nervously over their shoulders.
KICK-OFF: Saturday, 3.07pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS…
Aston Villa 0 Crystal Palace 1 (Gayle), Premier League, December 2013
Aston Villa 3 (Agbonlahor, Carew 2) Crystal Palace 1 (Ambrose), FA Cup, February 2010
Crystal Palace 2 (Ertl, Ambrose) Aston Villa 2 (Collins, Petrov), FA Cup, February 2010
Crystal Palace have scored the least goals in the Premier League this season (23)
No team has scored less home league goals than Crystal Palace (14)
Aston Villa have the best away record in the bottom half of the Premier League
Saturday’s visitors haven’t won at Selhurst Park in 10 attempts - a run stretching back to 1980
Crystal Palace to win: 2.10
Aston Villa to win: 3.40
TV: Highlights on BBC1 at 10.30pm