Opposing View: Aston Villa
Are Villa staying up?
If you'd have asked me that question prior to the vital double win against Reading and QPR I'd have had to have said no. The Fulham draw was disappointing as those two points lost could be huge, but I think at the moment we will stay up by the skin of our teeth, with it going until the Wigan game on the last day of the season.
To be comfortable, if you can be in this position, we really need to be taking maximum points from our game against you and Norwich so it doesn't boil down to the final day, but we've had an awful lot of 'must win' matches this season and few of them have gone our way.
At worst we need to match whatever results Wigan pick up unless we can help further drag any other team into it and it's going to be a close run thing.
I'm hoping Wigan won't get anything from the Spurs game, and if they don't maye our game will turn from a must win into a must not lose, which will maybe suit both better - but like you, three points would make a huge difference, especially if Wigan falter.
How has the season been in terms of your hopes & expectations?
Pretty much as expected for me really. I said at the start of the season with the players we signed and the changes going on that I'd take a point, although as the team grew in confidence over December and results levelled out I harboured a hope we would see ourselves safe already by now, although a top ten run was always going to be a long shot, even when things clicked. But the Chelsea debacle set the team back months again, the manager didn't do anything about the experience element we lacked, and if we are to survive the lads have found some confidence and a touch of form just at the final moment thankfully.
So really, even though I expected a tough battle, because of the way we've gone about it, risking too much on the youth policy and not giving them the experience to lead, has probably cost us (even if we stay up) more than we have gained. The younger players have been through the ringer, been given no break and yes in seasons' to come the experience will benefit them, but at least in terms of next season, being pummelled as they have been in games with no let up means many of them will going into the new campaign hardly beaming with confidence and effectively having had a season without leadership and guidance, and without being taught the tricks to see games out.
So yes, they'll know the league better, they'll know the margins of what it takes to win, draw or lose a game, and they'll know that in some games they have shown they can compete at this level, but the football savvy to see games out, the decision making and judgement calls that experience grants you will still be lacking.
How's our good friend Darren Bent doing?!
It's been that long since I last saw him I don't think I could tell you to be frightfully honest.
Yes, maybe he doesn't give the work ethic that Paul Lambert has wanted from players, but it's illogical he hasn't been involved more, or at least been used when fit as a sub in the final 20-30 minutes of games to at least give Benteke and Weimann some sort of break.
Thoughts on the sacking of MON?
Well, it didn't really come as a surprise. His tenure at Sunderland seemed remarkably similar in terms of how quickly your game play turned into park the bus and then run as quickly as possible forward when you got the ball. Draws became a staple and selections (the lack thereof of a plan B, whilst you wondered what plan A was) and players being moved all over the park were a regular thing.
Been there and done that.
I honestly think the game has changed too much now, and players have too much power for that type of management to really work, especially long term now.
O'Neill might be able to create that siege mentality at a lower level still, but I don't think it works in the top flight anymore because even when he does have some success (his first few years with us) it always brings far more damage down the line and what is a short term gain really isn't worth it because it has a ceiling.
Key player for Villa?
Christian Benteke. Just no other way to answer that question. The game will hinge on a number of players performances, but non more so than Tekkers.
One player you'd drive to his next club?
Richard Dunne. Did very little for us on the pitch in recent seasons, and hasn't even been able to do that this season.
One Sunderland player you'd pinch?
To be honest, and inspite of his faults, Carlos Cuellar's commitment on the pitch would've been a huge boost for us this season as Ron Vlaar hasn't fully settled in and as the experienced option we have in defence, his own errors whilst he still adjusts to the league have often hamstrung us.
Larsson and Gardner would make a huge difference to the impact of our midfield, and again with them come the experience we all too sadly lack.
And Fletcher is a goal machine, although maybe only a touch less one dimensional than Bent is on the pitch.
Only real worry from the last match day squad is Joe Bennett that I'm aware of at this point. The team doesn't really change anyway, it'll be much the same as the last few games.
We could dearly do with a 2-0 to help our goal difference. I just can't see this being anything other than a 1-1 at the moment though.
Cheers Mike! CLICK HERE to see how I answered Mike's questions!