Aston Villa’s Premier League fate could be sealed this weekend if the bottom club continue their miserable run of seven successive losses when they entertain AFC Bournemouth.
Managerless Villa are clinging onto their top-flight status with six games remaining, but defeat at Villa Park combined with Norwich City gaining anything from their trip to Crystal Palace would see them relegated to the Championship.
In fact even a draw would not be enough to save Villa – who are 15 points from safety – should Norwich win on their visit to Selhurst Park.
Not since 1988 have Villa – who are one of seven clubs to play in every Premier League season – been in the second tier of English football, although they have flirted with the drop in the last four seasons.
Their luck appears to have finally run out, though, as managers Tim Sherwood and Remi Garde have come and gone, Villa only picking up three wins from their 32 matches – one of which came at Bournemouth on the opening day of the season.
A 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea last time out was a bad start for caretaker boss Eric Black, and to make matters worse he saw Alan Hutton sent off late on, so the full-back will miss Saturday’s clash.
Villa could welcome back defender Ciaran Clark after he returned to training following a calf problem, while Jack Grealish and Adama Traore came through an Under-21 clash with West Brom on Monday.
History suggests Villa may have a stay of execution given they have only lost once in six meetings with Bournemouth in all competitions, and the visitors have never won at Villa Park.
However, Eddie Howe’s side have been upsetting the odds all season on their way to 38 points and a place in mid-table.
Bournemouth returned from warm-weather training in Dubai to be beaten 4-0 by Manchester City, but defender Simon Francis believes the trip will benefit them going into the final matches of their debut campaign.
“We were there for just under a week and trained three times,” he told the Bournemouth Echo.
“The facilities were second to none and the best I have come across. A lot of things [benefits] were instant but we will probably feel the benefit in different ways over the coming weeks.
“For me, it is an added motivation. You go out there to train at top facilities, you want to get used to those things, improve even more and get results on the back of it.”
Even injuries to Callum Wilson and Tyrone Mings have not de-railed Bournemouth’s campaign, with Benik Afobe effortlessly stepping in to replace Wilson in attack with four goals since his January move.
The former Arsenal youngster will not feature this weekend, though, as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury, so Lewis Grabban and Josh King are expected to start in attack.
Key Opta Stats:
– AFC Bournemouth have not lost successive away games in the Premier League since November 1 2015 (Winning four, drawing two and losing two since then).
– Aston Villa have lost each of their last seven league games; only once before have suffered more consecutive defeats in the league, in 1963 when they lost 11 in a row.
– Current Villa caretaker boss Eric Black has lost all three Premier League games when in charge, one with Birmingham City in November 2007, one with Sunderland in December 2011 and last time out with Villa.
– Idrissa Gueye has made more interceptions than any other player in the Premier League this season (132) while only Leicester’s N’Golo KantE (139) has made more tackles (123).
– Cherries’ boss Eddie Howe has used 16 English players in the Premier League this season, three more than any other side.
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