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Be cautious or have a go? The dilemma facing Aston Villa and Reading who are fighting for survival

March 9th, 2013 Sports

Andreas Weimann  - Aston Villa winger Andreas Weimann can terrorise Reading if Brian McDermott gets his tactics wrong

Counter-attack: Andreas Weimann and the pacy Villa side could expose Ian Harte

Just concentrate all your efforts on the next 90 minutes. Do not worry about
anything else because it does not matter for the time being.

And rarely before has that motto sounded so accurate seeing as Reading face
trips to Manchester United and Arsenal following the six-pointer against
fellow strugglers Aston
on Saturday. So if the team lying second from bottom do not
win this game they may have to wait a while for their next points.

Brian McDermott, then, has a decision to make in trying to come out on top
against a side equally in need of a good result. Does he go cautious by
playing five in midfield behind a lone front man, or does he pick two
strikers to really have a go at a vulnerable Villa defence?

It is a tricky one because switching to a five-man midfield back in December
made the team so much more solid, more difficult to beat. That was borne out
by a terrific run during which they won four and drew two of their next
eight games.

More recently, though, that system has foundered. Reading’s last home game, in
fact, saw them manage one solitary effort on target in a worryingly
comfortable win for a rampant Wigan. It was not much better last week when
Everton coasted through to a 3-1 victory.

Mind you, McDermott fielded two forwards at Goodison Park in Noel Hunt and
Adam Le Fondre. It was a noticeable change of tack for a team that had
enjoyed some success going the other way. It will be interesting to see if
he does so again given that the best man for a lone-striker role, Pavel
Pogrebnyak, is suspended.

Being more adventurous has its advantages, of course, in terms of giving the
side a sharper cutting edge. Very good in the air, Hunt is capable of
nodding one down in the box to the predatory Le Fondre who does not normally
disappoint with his finishing.

On the flip side, however, Villa are likely to go with a 4-2-3-1 shape that,
if Reading are not careful, could give the visitors an extra man in the
middle of the park.

This may come in handy on the counter-attack, a tactic well suited to a side
containing great pace in the form of Christian Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor,
Charles N’Zogbia and Andreas Weimann, the 21-year-old Austrian who has
managed to shine during this most testing of seasons.

Paul Lambert usually likes to play Weimann on the right flank and if he does
so again it could be a chance to exploit the space behind Ian Harte.

At 35, the experienced left-back can still deliver a wonderful ball but, not
surprisingly, he does not enjoy chasing athletic whippersnappers towards his
own goal.

exposed Reading on the counter-attack and Villa could do
the same with the aforementioned players if they can only defend with enough
resolve. A mistake by Ciaran Clark, captain of the side at the age of 23,
gifted Manchester City the points on Monday night.

Yet the promising aspect was the fact they kept going, sticking together right
till the end. There may have been a lack of quality in comparison to City
but team spirit on the night did not let them down.

And unlike their hosts on Saturday, Villa face a more inviting fixture next
week with a home game against Queens Park Rangers. That means the next two
games could virtually define their fight against relegation.

Win them and Villa might just gain the confidence to kick on a little. Lose
both and the youngsters in this side may begin to lose heart, having already
suffered this season from a lack of guidance from senior pros.

Bad luck, admittedly, comes into play here with the long term injury to
Richard Dunne compounding Stiliyan Petrov’s sad absence through illness.

That said, Lambert freely decided he could do without the services of
experienced campaigners like Alan Hutton, Stephen Warnock and, for the most
part, Darren Bent. Should Villa go down, those decisions will inevitably be
roundly criticised.

Still, that kind of discussion can wait for another day. For both sides this
afternoon, WNG is all that matters.