Aston Villa are out to spoil Aitor Karanka’s first day
For the second successive away trip, Villa will aim to spoil the home team manager’s first match in charge.
Having successfully ruined Tony Pulis’s big day by winning 1-0 at Middlesbrough to close out 2017, they now travel to face a Nottingham Forest team led for the first time by Aitor Karanka, writes Matt Maher.
Connections are numerous, not least the fact Karanka was until last March the manager at Boro, where he was assisted by Villa’s newly-arrived head of coaching Steve Agnew.
Yet the only thing of interest to Villa boss Steve Bruce will be recording a third straight league win, which would both keep his team well in the hunt for automatic promotion and ensure the manner of last weekend’s FA Cup exit to Peterborough is quickly forgotten.
Wholesale changes to the team are inevitable, with only Conor Hourihane and John Terry likely to be retained from the patchwork XI which lined up against the Posh.
Terry emerging unscathed from his first 90 minutes after two months out with a broken foot was the biggest positive on an otherwise miserable day for Bruce.
Should he be feeling no after affects, the skipper is likely to replace Tommy Elphick in the only change from the team which demolished Bristol City on New Year’s Day.
The victory was Villa’s best for more than four-and-a-half years, while the performance – most would argue – was the finest they have produced since Bruce took charge 15 months ago.
For all their misfortune with injuries and despite seemingly being forever on the brink of a crisis, there remains a sense things might finally be coming together for Villa as the season moves toward the business end.
Victory tomorrow would add further weight to that opinion, ahead of a month where the schedule, a trip to Sheffield United aside, pitches them against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Not that any of those teams can be taken lightly. Forest head into tomorrow’s game fresh from dumping holders Arsenal out of the FA Cup and Karanka is hoping his new players can maintain those levels.
“That can be used to build momentum but you also have to be wary that the team don’t think because they beat Arsenal they can just turn up and beat Aston Villa,” he said.
“They have to realise that to play against Villa, they have to fight with the same intensity as Villa are a good team and another big club.
“The players know they will have to fight at least to the same level that they did on Sunday. I will need to get to know the players more but the main thing is all about the attitude on the pitch.
“With the right attitude they beat Arsenal and if we play with that attitude then we will do well.”
Forest will be without defender Joe Worrall following his sending-off against the Gunners.
Villa are assessing an ankle injury sustained by striker Scott Hogan late in the New Year’s Day rout of the Robins.