Martin O’Neill is wary of Hull City’s threat as his side set about registering a fourth straight win on the road.
Villa head for the KC Stadium for the first time since Gareth Barry’s penalty gave them a 1-0 victory over Peter Taylor’s then Championship outfit three years ago in the FA Cup.
Successive heavy defeats to Sunderland and Manchester City, which have seen them leak nine goals, have punctured a buoyant atmosphere surrounding Phil Brown’s team.
But O’Neill, who is expected to clinch a deal for Portsmouth’s Jermaine Defoe as soon as the transfer window opens, is expecting a tough encounter against a side who are still in the top eight.
“People say it’s a good time to catch Hull but I certainly don’t see it like that,” the Villa manager said.
“The game will be very difficult. It makes me cringe when people say ‘there’s a game you should be winning’.
“We shouldn’t be winning anything – we should be ‘trying’ to win football games against every team we face.
“People point to the Manchester City defeat during this festive period but a team on the rebound concerns me. It will be hard.
“Hull have had some really great wins this season and they are where they are in the table on merit. It will just be very difficult.”
Only 11 of Hull’s 27 points have come on home turf where Brown’s men have already slipped to four defeats in the league.
But a win over Villa would put them on the coat tails of sixth-placed Everton.
“All I look at is the amount of points they have put on the board and I think it is remarkable,” said O’Neill.
“They have been a great story this season. Their efforts have been absolutely remarkable.
“They have come into the Barclays Premier League and played with no apparent fear.
“They have been well organised and they have more than deserved all the points they have got. Like the rest of us, they have been beaten a few times but they always fight back.”
Hull beat Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur on successive weekends back in late September and early October and only recently earned a creditable 2-2 draw at league leaders Liverpool.
“I thought their win at the Emirates Stadium, where they fought back for the victory, was fantastic,” continued O’Neill.
“That was the first time when all of us took real, genuine notice of Hull and what they were doing.
“That wasn’t a one-off though because they have continued in a really fine vein.
“The players are well motivated – they are up for every game and it’s been a remarkable story.”
Full-back Luke Young says Hull remind him of the Charlton side which wowed the Premier League in the early part of the decade.
Young was part of Alan Curbishley’s team as they established themselves as a top flight force, with the likes of Scott Parker, Dean Kiely, Mark Fish, Claus Jensen and Matt Holland excelling.
“They have been the surprise package. Their run of form reminds me of my early years at Charlton,” said Young.
“We had a great team spirit and everyone worked for each other. There were no superstars in the side and I think you can go a long way with that.
“If you’re working as a team and running that extra yard for each other, good things happen.
“Hull have done that this year. I’m not saying they haven’t got quality though because they clearly have.
“They don’t just work their socks off, they have players who can really create openings too.
“Hull are proof that you can mix it with the big boys as a newly promoted side.
“If you look at Stoke, Hull and West Brom, no-one is cut adrift.
“Hull are doing better than the other two and they have shown that if you pull for each other and really work hard, you can pick up results.”
Brown defends sit-down tactics, Page 39