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The pressure’s off Villa and Stoke – so this might be a cracker

| 22.03.2014

You couldn’t get more of a mid-table clash than Aston Villa v Stoke – 10th against 11th – and with both sides now almost certainly safe from the drop, it is, in the great Premier League scheme of things, the most meaningless fixture of the weekend. But that is not to say that it won’t be entertaining.

The two midlands clubs have plenty in common. Both have been on the fringes of relegation for most of the season, but in between some disappointing performances they have raised their game to beat some of the very best sides.

Villa started the campaign with a win at Arsenal and have since beaten both Manchester City and Chelsea (last weekend) at home, while Stoke have also claimed the scalps of Arsenal and Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium, as well as Manchester United’s.

They have rarely played so well against the lesser clubs, but recent good runs have eased the pressure and both sides might now throw the shackles off and play with more freedom.

Villa (11/10) are bidding to make it three home League wins in a row for the first time for more than six years and might prove too strong for Stoke, who have managed just one away victory all season.

There might be a few goals in it, too. Paul Lambert’s side have scored four twice this year and will be in the right mood for a few more following that morale-boosting win over the Premier League leaders. Coral’s 3-1 (22/1) might be worth a punt.

It’s been a long time since Southampton have had anything meaningful to play for as far as the Premier League is concerned, but their four World Cup likely lads, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Luke Shaw, have all stayed busy showing England boss Roy Hodgson what they can do.

A trip to Spurs will probably just inspire the Saints to produce another impressive performance. Tottenham may be three places above them in the Premier League table, but their confidence is fragile at the moment, despite a spirited effort against Benfica on Thursday.

And they have been extremely vulnerable at White Hart Lane all season, just seven wins and five defeats and more goals conceded than scored.

Emmanuel Adebayor is one of several Spurs players likely to return to the starting line-up, but I fancy Southampton to make it three wins in a row, perhaps 2-1 (11/1).





Jon Freeman