Victory for either side today would be a great leap forward, particularly for Fulham should Spurs maintain their lead over Newcastle United until the referee blows his last whistle. For Villa, who have only one win in the last seven, with Jack Grealish back they can overtake Leeds and Arsenal and jump back into the top 10, for Fulham’s draw specialists, whose upward climb has been stalled by back-to-back defeats by Man City and Leeds, it would take them out of the bottom three for the first time since November 18, providing, of course, that Newcastle lose.
Fulham have almost an entirely new team with a core of assorted high-quality loan players since losing 3-0 at home to Villa in their second match of the season, a bad-tempered affair of nine yellow cards in which Grealish scored one and made the other two goals.
Scott Parker sees Villa as an exemplar for his club, one successful battle against relegation can spark a transformation: “What brings staying in this division is finances, what the club wants to do and their ambition. It is down to each club and Aston Villa stayed in the league, invested last year but managed to add on to that and invest again this year with extra money.
“What Villa did last year highlights that all clubs coming into this league see that the gap between Championship and Premier League is massive – there is no hiding from that,” he added. The money, the quality, the players are very, very good – the first season is to try and stay in the league and then build again.
“You want to take massive steps of course, sometimes spend a lot of money, or you take small steps and keep building – but what brings you those options is staying in the league.”
Villa are revelling in the return of Grealish and are chuffed for Ollie Watkins after his scoring England debut last week;
“Everybody here is so pleased for him and I know everybody at my old club Brentford will be as well because he’s such a likable lad and he works extremely hard,” said boss Dean Smith.
“He’s earned that right to get on the pitch for England. First of all to get called up and then score with his second touch of the game is a great story for him and others like him.”
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