Allen Hamilton

What: English Premier League
Who: Aston Villa vs Newcastle United
When: Tuesday 29th January, 2013, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Villa Park, Birmingham, England

Already Down Mentally?

On 15th December, Aston Villa had reason to feel positive about the second half of the season, going into the festive period after beating Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield. Since then however, the Midlands side have crumbled. Following the win at Anfield, Aston Villa lost 8-0 at Chelsea, 4-0 at home against Tottenham and then 3-0 at home against Wigan – those three results crushed the young side.

Now, having been dumped out of the League Cup, when Wembley was within touching distance and by no less than fourth-tier side Bradford City, and the FA Cup, there will be no respite for Paul Lambert's young troops, who sit one point and one place above the Premier League trapdoor. Lambert has pursued a policy of bringing through young players, seemingly at the insistence of American owner Randy Lerner. It is thought to be designed to cut costs, as young players command significantly lower wages than senior professionals. But, if Aston Villa are relegated, it may be the cause of Lerner shooting himself in the foot.

The pressure on the hosts ahead of this game is huge and this may be the test of whether the young players in the squad have the mental toughness for a relegation fight. Lambert has promised that they do.

A Distinctly French Flavour

While Aston Villa have kept their powder dry in the transfer window, Newcastle have been active, with manager Alan Pardew prepared to do all he can to move the Magpies away from the relegation zone. There may be a sense of panic in the way that Newcastle have plundered names from their France-based scout's notebook, but the scattergun approach promises to have brought in at least some that will succeed – and for bargain prices too.

Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko and Massaido Haidara. All may not instantly get to grips with the Premier League, but they offer freshness, along with no negative experiences of English football, that could help to float the Newcastle boat.

And if they can help the Magpies to win this game, that would be a huge step in the right direction, while also condemning Aston Villa to a real struggle.

"We needed to strengthen, there's no doubt about that, and we've accelerated some transfers that perhaps we were going to look to make in the summer – Sissoko being the main one in that group", said Pardew. "We're still missing (Hatem) Ben Arfa but the group is much stronger."

Recent form

Aston Villa:
West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa (19/01; Premier League)
Aston Villa 2-1 Bradford (22/01; League Cup)
Millwall 2-1 Aston Villa (25/01; FA Cup)

Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 Newcastle (05/01; FA Cup)
Norwich 0-0 Newcastle (12/01; Premier League)
Newcastle 1-2 Reading (19/01; Premier League)

Key absences

Aston Villa: Fabian Delph; Richard Dunne (doubt); Nathan Baker (doubt); Marc Albrighton

Newcastle: Hatem Ben Arfa; Yohan Cabaye; Ryan Taylor; Dan Gosling

Players to watch

Aston Villa – Christian Benteke: The powerful striker has been the success story of Aston Villa's season and if the club are relegated, the vultures will surely waste no time in circling. In fact, Benteke could even be on the move if they survive. He can be a handful for better defences than Newcastle's and will be key here.

Newcastle – Yoan Gouffran: The former Bordeaux hitman has a big job on his hands replacing Demba Ba, but he has been prolific in front of goal this season in France. Gouffran should be involved at some stage and could announce himself to the Newcastle faithful in style if he can puncture the Aston Villa defence.

Match Prediction

Aston Villa are low on confidence and nothing seems to be going their way at present. While Newcastle may have suffered their fair of setbacks, an influx of new talent should have boosted confidence in the squad. Home advantage will help Aston Villa, if they can take an early lead or at least show some bright play. But if Newcastle score first, it could be a very long night for Lambert's side. Aston Villa 0-2 Newcastle.

Betting on Aston Villa v Newcastle? Visit Inside Bet before you bet.