Wolves, Derby, Cardiff and Bristol leave room for only Villa and Leeds (but Middlesbrough might yet sneak in)

no slide rule needed

Pete Sixsmith has already produced a “first time” post for ‘Boro away so I’m using his usual spot to bring you an update on the progress of the clubs our pre-season poll predicted would be the top six. (Over 8,000 votes were cast. If you’re new to the series or wish to catch up you might try some of the links at the bottom of the page).

The clubs were: 

Aston Villa,
Sheff Wed,

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Sixer’s Aston Villa Soapbox: neither a bang nor a whimper

Jake: ‘here’s the one report you should read, Chris’

Chris Coleman is unlikely to see this at all and, should he accidentally find himself at this page, still less likely to feel any need to heed Pete Sixsmith‘s advice, sound as it is.

But who would bet against the new manager reaching pretty much the same conclusions at our Sixer, who certainly reads the game of football as well as some of our past 11 managers (which takes us back only as far as Niall Quinn). Pete was at Villa Park. He saw what he saw, not a bad performance but one lacking midfield strength and punch against barely impressive opposition. It is pointless to talk about Burton on Saturday being a must-win game since we rarely win anything billed as such, but the thought will have crossed other minds …

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Hutch’s one-word ratings after Aston Villa defeat: who was drab, who was ‘crablike’?

Rob Hutchison: master of the one-word verdicts

Monsieur Salut writes: had I been able to make it – up for me, from London – for Chris Coleman’s first game in charge, I would have met up with not only Peter Sixsmith but Rob Hutchison and his daughter Olivia, all three familiar figures around these parts. My apologies for absence reached the Hutchisons as they – also heading north from exile – drove towards Birmingham.

At one down, as the second half started, Rob thought there was so little between the sides that Sunderland could go on and win if only they could first equalise. Cue a second Villa goal.

Here, then, is one of those Hutch specialities, Rob’s one-word man-by-man verdict (he described the whole experience as ‘drab, drab, drab; oh, it was so drab’ and will one day explain why Gibson was ‘crablike’) …

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Sixer’s Sevens: Aston Villa 2-1 SAFC. Coleman sees measure of his task

Jake: ‘it’s not always pretty’

Pete Sixsmith saw Chris Coleman’s managership start in painfully familiar fashion, yet another bright start undone by yet another piece of sloppy defending. The upshot: the simplest of conceded goals for Villa’s Adomah, albeit after the ref arguably ignored a foul on Matthews that started the move. Ten minutes gone, one down. Had Robbin Ruiter, so fortunate to keep his place after handing Millwall two early Christmas presents on Saturday, even seen the ball up to then? ‘Goalkeeper suspect again,’ muttered Sixer. Gary Bennett praised the shape – 4-1-4-1 – and the buildup but was worried about the final pass, the final shot and the failure to cover at the back. Sixer bemoaned our lack of physicality.

All the above was written before half time. The second had barely begun before another Villa -mah (Onomah this time) made it two, his shot massively deflected by Browning. There seemed no way back. Lax defending, lack of finesse and a spot of misfortune: Coleman was perhaps seeing our season so far encapsulated in one more losing game.

Then he saw how important Lewis Grabban is to our modest hopes when the striker on loan from Bournemouth snatched one back. We prayed for that flash of skill or touch of luck that might save the game. It didn’t come.

Sixer saw glimmers of hope. Come back for his considered view but read on for his instant seven-word verdict …

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Coleman’s challenge: turning football’s laughing stock into reasons to be cheerful

Jake: ‘time to rise to the task’

Beyond blind faith, a commodity in large if diminishing supply among Sunderland supporters, perhaps the main source of hope for an unexpected victory at Villa Park is the power of new manager bounce.

But what a fillip it would give to the demoralised faithful to be able, for only the second time this season, to celebrate the final whistle rather than be left ruing missed chances and the inability to defend or even obtain a lead.

Even a draw at promotion-chasing Villa, denying bragging rights to Steve Bruce, as beastly a bête noire to Sunderland fans as they come, would be encouraging and – with a visit to lowly Burton Albion next up – give new complexion to match previews for this weekend.

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Aston Villa vs Sunderland prize Guess the Score: will Coleman deliver?

Jake: ‘no mustard jokes here’

Will Sunderland return to the tradition of the post-match manager’s e-mail under Chris Coleman? If so, will his first be to salute a debut rather more impressive than the last author of such missives, David Moyes, managed with West Ham?

Pete Sixsmith has already promised never again to use mustard puns in relation to our new boss. So if we do start receiving, and publishing, Coleman’s thoughts, however massaged by press office staff, that rule will extend to the title of the feature.

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Aston Villa vs Sunderland Who are You?: Bruce’s winning feeling – and baffling tactics


Josh Henwood* was an Aston Villa ‘Who are You?’ interviewee more than seven years ago. Our clubs have fallen on harder times since then though after a lean first season down in the Championship, Villa under Steve Bruce are now challenging hard for promotion whereas we, well, we aren’t.  A warm welcome back to these pages, Josh (check out his Twitter page).

Josh reckons Villa will win. Try free betting if you want a flutter on all sorts of sporting events, including a tasty package on Bayern, Barcelona, Man Utd and PSG all to win their Champions League games on Wednesday …


Salut! Sunderland: a few years have passed since we last met on these pages, Josh. Not been a great time for either club but now you’re pushing for promotion – how do you feel about the way things are going?
Josh Henwood: Yeah I took a look at that post the other day and just marvelled at how our fortunes have changed. But that’s football! In terms of how things are going for the Villa, I’m more positive than I’ve been for years, but we need to get through an injury-fuelled Christmas period by the looks of it which could change a promotion drive into mid-table obscurity!

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The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Aston Villa and Villa Park

Sleek Sixer …

John McCormick writes: I suspected this would be one of the grounds that Pete Sixsmith counts among his favourites. After all, not only  is it old and venerable, like the man himself,  with international matches and semi-finals galore on its cv, it has the Archibald Leitch connection that he relishes.

And there’s a bonus for me, by some coincidence. Some random bloke I met this morning started talking about the ’73 cup final and the save, which got me mentally singing “Aye Aye Aye Aye, Monty is better than Yashin”. But I couldn’t  for the life of me remember who was better than Eusabio. Now I know, and I’ll sleep happily tonight. So it’s a double thankyou to Pete, for filling in that gap, and for another excellent read:

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If Millwall’s visit isn’t worrying enough, Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa are up next

An ominous reunion with our former boss looms. Portrait of Steve Bruce by Owen Lennox, an acclaimed Sunderland artist

Sunderland’s shameful home record will become officially the worst in English football history on Saturday if Millwall are not beaten at the Stadium of Light. Nineteen games – 18 in the Premier League and Championship and one in the FA Cup – have passed since a scrappy 1-0 defeat of Watford in December last year. That is a winless home run shared by Dagenham and Redbridge, Derby County and Nottingham Forest. Are we really about to make the record our own? Stand by for a bleak assessment of our club’s present crisis …

Perhaps the best that can be said
about the visit to Aston Villa next Tuesday is that at least Sunderland won’t be at home. The match comes four days after the managerless club must beat Millwall to avoid setting that wholly unwanted record for failing to win at home.

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