Aston Villa: 5 Must-Win Games to Secure EPL Survival
It's "cup final" time.
No, not the version where you actually contest a cup final at Wembley, the virtual construction of "big team efforts" in order to drag yourself over the line.
Paul Lambert has come out with the classic "it's 12 cup finals from here" line and he's dead right—Aston Villa need to focus on picking up at least five wins from their final dozen games to secure English Premier League survival.
Let's take a look at their run in.
Reading vs. Aston Villa (March 9)
Aston Villa have a pretty good record against Reading, but records and history go out of the window on occasions like this.
The Villans dealt Brian McDermott's men a sucker-punch in beating them 1-0 at Villa Park earlier this season, and it truly felt like a battle of nerves, tensions and fear.
I expect nothing too dissimilar here (apart from a better Reading side at home), and whoever holds their nerve will do a serious amount of damage to other.
Fans will be hoping for days like this.
Aston Villa vs. QPR (March 16)
Aston Villa and QPR can't stop drawing.
Their last three meetings in the English Premier League have been ties (1-1, 2-2 and 1-1) so expect goals, but perhaps don't expect anything other than a share of spoils.
Despite the recent history, this game will be a fixture both teams feel they really need to win. It would see QPR gain invaluable ground on its rivals, while it would also see Villa even further clear of 20th.
For Villa, this game comes the weekend after the Reading encounter. Talk about pressure.
Aston Villa vs. Fulham (April 13)
Last season, Andi Weimann helped secure survival for Aston Villa by scoring his first ever league goal in the final minute at home to Fulham.
Barry Bannan's shot from distance was parried into the danger area by Mark Schwarzer, and poacher extraordinaire Weimann was on hand to execute a peculiar, crab-like finish.
A goal is a goal, and if the game goes the same way in April 2013 Paul Lambert will be a happy man.
This makes the Fulham game all the more pivotal.
Norwich vs. Aston Villa (May 4)
It just seems that Paul Lambert knows how to get the better of certain managers.
Brendan Rodgers is one, as Aston Villa's 3-1 victory at Anfield in December 2012 will attest, and that theory should carry over to former charges of his.
Lambert knows Norwich like the back of his hand and has already impressed against them twice this season. The home tie saw Villa ahead before Joe Bennett's red card altered things, and the 4-1 win at Carrow Road in the Capital One Cup was mightily impressive.
With the Canaries slipping down the table at breakneck speed, this match could end up having dire consequences for the loser.
Wigan vs. Aston Villa (Final Day of the Season)
Anything is better than succumbing to the same 3-0 scoreline Aston Villa did in December at Villa Park, but it feels like the fixture computer was being especially mean when it drew this one out.
Final day of the season, Wigan host Villa.
At least one of these teams will still be fighting to survive, and if they both are then expect the Lancashire hospital's heart trauma ward to be incredibly busy that day.
If Paul Lambert's men win five fixtures they'll reach 39 points, which is just about enough to stay up in principle. The odd draw here and there could see them over the line, but five wins from 12 games seems a must.