Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace v Aston Villa
By Football News
Two sides heading in opposite directions meet in the Premier League on Saturday as Crystal Palace welcome Aston Villa to Selhurst Park.
The clubs head into the game locked together in the table on 34 points, but they have experienced starkly contrasting fortunes in recent weeks.
Palace have enjoyed back-to-back wins, seeing off title contenders Chelsea 1-0 at home before thumping relegation rivals Cardiff City 3-0 in Wales last weekend.
Those successes have lifted Tony Pulis' side to 14th in the table, seven points clear of the bottom three and with some breathing space ahead of the run-in.
After a difficult start to life back in the Premier League under Ian Holloway, in which Palace lost seven of their opening eight matches, the club opted for a change of manager, with Pulis subsequently taking up the reins.
The former Stoke City boss has since overseen a remarkable upturn in form, with Palace winning eight of his 20 league games in charge to pull his side away from danger.
That improvement has been based mainly on a strong home record, with six of those eight league victories under Pulis coming at Selhurst Park, and on Thursday he called on his charges to carry that positivity into this weekend's game.
"It's been a good couple of weeks for us," he said. "It's important we keep our feet on the ground and realise how difficult the Villa game is going to be on Saturday, then every game from there on in.
"So we have to maintain the momentum we've built up over the past few weeks."
In contrast to Palace, Villa head into the game on the back of three consecutive defeats, including a disappointing 2-1 reverse at home to struggling Fulham last time out.
Consecutive wins over Norwich City and Chelsea last month looked to have put Paul Lambert's men safe.
However, defeat to Palace on Saturday, combined with other results going against them, would leave them looking nervously over their shoulder going into the final weeks of the season.
They will not take much heart from their recent away league record either, with just one win in their last eight matches on the road, while the reverse fixture on Boxing Day ended 1-0 to Palace courtesy of Dwight Gayle's spectacular stoppage-time strike.
Despite the striker scoring five in a reserve fixture in midweek, Pulis said Gayle would not start on Saturday, although he is hopeful to be able to choose from a fully fit squad.
Villa will be without top scorer Christian Benteke after he tore his Achilles last week, while Karim El Ahmadi (thigh), Gabriel Agbonlahor (illness) and Fabian Delph (calf) are doubts after missing the defeat to Fulham.