Aston Villa manager Remi Garde insists Saturday’s contest with Sunderland is not do-or-die as the Premier League’s bottom two prepare to meet at the Stadium of Light.
The first half of the season was miserable for both Villa and Sunderland, with Garde’s side bottom of the table with just eight points from 19 games. Their only victory of the campaign came on the opening day at AFC Bournemouth.
Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland, meanwhile, have lost five Premier League matches on the bounce and sit just four points above their visitors going into this weekend.
Both teams’ struggles mean this fixture has been billed as a relegation six-pointer, but a defiant Garde – who replaced Tim Sherwood in November – insists Villa can survive regardless of Saturday’s result.
“It is a very important game but this is not the last chance we will have to be fair,” he said. “There are still a lot of points to be done. Let’s see what happens.
“We will go there to win. I want my team to have the best spirit they can have – everyone in this club, particularly me and the players – have to show the best we can do.”
Allardyce took the reins at Sunderland in October and brought an initial upturn in fortunes on Wearside with three wins in his opening six matches.
However, the gloom has descended on the Stadium of Light following a run that has seen them drift down to 19th spot and seven points from safety.
A 1-0 defeat to Liverpool on Wednesday continued their dreadful form, but Allardyce is refusing to give up hope of another famous great escape from the Black Cats after several flirtations with relegation over recent seasons.
“[We have to] work as hard as we did [against Liverpool] and provide the right sort of quality in front of the opposition goal,” he told the club’s official website.
“We have to keep going, keep believing and keep our nerve, and make sure we get ready for our big clash now on Saturday.”
Allardyce is facing a defensive crisis with Sebastian Coates (knock) a doubt after limping off against Liverpool.
With Younes Kaboul (hamstring) sidelined, Allardyce will hope captain John O’Shea (calf) can return, but midfielder Jack Rodwell (hamstring) is set to miss to miss out.
Jores Okore (knee) could return for Villa having sat out the 2-0 loss to Norwich City, but Gabby Agbonlahor (back) and Carlos Sanchez (hamstring) are likely to miss out.
Jordan Ayew, Villa’s top league scorer with five, and Ashley Westwood are both suspended.
Key Opta stats:
– The Black Cats have failed to score in six of the last eight Premier League games against Villa.
– Villa have lost none of the last nine Premier League meetings with Sunderland (W4 D5), and have won the last three encounters at the Stadium of Light without conceding a goal.
– Only Sunderland (six in 05-06) and Derby County (seven in 07-08) have had fewer points after 19 games of a Premier League season than Villa this season (eight).
– Villa are without a win in 18 matches (D5 L13); extending their longest ever winless run in their league history.