Feb 8, 2014, 9:35 AM EST
For every team in the bottom half of the Premier League table, each match is a relegation battle – but West Ham’s visit to Villa Park is truly vital, as a win could lift the Irons out of the drop zone (watch live online on NBC Sports Live Extra at 10 a.m. ET).
West Ham have picked up four points from their last two matches, picking up a draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before beating Swansea City 2-0 at Upton Park last weekend. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of the drop zone just yet – their fellow strugglers are also improving, and so the Irons remain a point from safety. That likely means we’ll be treated to a display more in line with what was seen at the Bridge than the actual attacking football the side showed off in the first hour last weekend.
Aston Villa’s form may have improved in recent weeks, but just because they’re sitting tenth doesn’t mean they’re out of danger – that’s just five points above the drop. Paul Lambert, who entered contract negotiations this week, knows that appeasing the fans means improving the home record, and it’s likely the hosts will go all out to find three points rather than one.
Last week, Andy Carroll was sent off with a straight red after an altercation with Swansea defender Chico Flores. Despite West Ham appealing their appeal to the FA, the three-match ban still stands, and Carroll with miss out. Instead it’s Carlton Cole that Sam Allardyce has put up front, favoring the devil he knows over new forward Marco Borriello, who remains on the bench.
Villa make two changes to the side that lost against Everton last week. Captain Ron Vlaar misses out with injury, with Matthew Lowton stepping into defense. Gabby Agbonlahor takes over the armband, taking over from Grant Holt, with Andi Weimann and Christian Benteke joining him up top.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Baker, Bertrand, Bacuna, Westwood, Delph, Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor
Subs: Steer, El Ahmadi, Sylla, Helenius, Albrighton, Holt, Bennett.
West Ham United: Adrian, Demel, Tomkins, Collins, McCartney, Nolan, Noble, Taylor, Jarvis, C.Cole, Downing
Subs: Jaaskelainen, Reid, Armero, Collison, Johnson, Borriello, Nocerino
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