Thanks very much to Overseas Iron for this match preview in my absence.
1 - Disclaimer
Before we begin, I'd like to get in early the fact that this edition of the H-List may not be as insightful, competent or well-structured as previous editions. Mr Shark has abandoned Blighty for sunnier climbs leaving me in charge for the Villa game. It's true to say that the Shark manages to research and analyse every game extensively despite being constantly busy with either his job, wife or young child...
But I've got a Sony PSP and we all know which takes up the most time in the life of a young man.
2 - Fortunes On The Upson?
As you will all be aware, West Ham claimed the biggest scalp of transfer deadline day by finally bringing Matthew Upson to Upton Park for an intial fee of £6 million, much to Steve Bruce's annoyance. I loved the fact that Bruce whined through his horrifically disfigured staircase of a nose about a disregard for contractual obligations. Maybe you should voice your complaints to Palace fans, Steve?
Upson, potentially, could be the rock upon which a successful survival campaign can be built and hopefully will light a fire up the backsides of the hitherto under-achieving Gabbidon and Ferdinand. With the arrival of Davenport, Neill and now Upson, Tyrone Mears loaned out to Derby and the writing seemingly on the wall for Konchesky, it appears Curbs is determined to use Eggy's millions to let everyone know who's boss.
Upson and Davenport sound to me like a promising centre-back partnership and we can hope that the new arrivals will at least provide some healthy competition for the feeble excuse for a defence we've had up 'til now. Perhaps it would be prudent to separate the wheat from the chaff, lest we want a Ranieri-esque squad of around 4 billion.
3 - Quick On The Draw
After an impressive start, Villa have trailed off and are only 9 points ahead of us having flirted briefly with those coveted Champions League spots. This could well be due to the fact that they (along with Fulham) top the league in taking a single point from games, with 11 draws so far this season.
By all accounts they looked not half bad against Newcastle in midweek, despite conceeding twice in the first 7 minutes, and can look menacing in attack on their day. However, despite beating Watford last week they have won only one of their last 6 home games. OK, so we haven't won away from home all season but there's got to be something in all these meaningless stats, hasn't there? Perhaps not... if there is then our fate is sealed.
One thing's for sure, two mediocre defences fighting it out for the right to concede the first goal should make for a fascinating contest.
4 - Brand New Brummies
Ashley Young will be making his home debut in a slightly different shade of claret and blue than some may have hoped for and could conceivably prove a handful - nothing a first minute, knee-high challenge from Christian 'The Enforcer' wouldn't sort out though.
John Carew will no doubt start too. Carew is one of those footballers who has confounded me in his time as a professional. Once touted as potential Real Madrid material, I've never rated him having seen more than a few lacklustre displays in the Champions League. He just seems to be a third rate Thierry Henry... which admittedly still makes him a first class Carlton Cole but not the unstoppable goal-machine he has often been described. Obviously, having cast doubts over his ability, watch him score 12 of the best goals you've ever seen on Saturday.
In addition, Villa also have Patrick Berger - an ageing but still dangerous attacking option to come off the bench in the last 20 minutes.
The Villans will no doubt be up for it with 'Man-Manager Supremo' Martin O'Neill at the helm. If we don't match them for commitment and work-rate, then I think it will be a morose journey back down the M1 for the Hammers faithful. We took 4 points off Villa in 2005/06 and won the corresponding fixture last year 2-1 having gone 1-0 down, with both Zamora and Harewood on the scoresheet.
I know. Inconceivable.
5 - Untouchable Ulsterman
Just what has Roy Carroll got to do to be dropped? How much money must Curbs be into him for? Is the imminent arrival of a cross into the box during the 4th round of the FA Cup really the time to practice an impression of a migrating Canadian goose? Not even Roy would've put money on maintaining his place in the side so consistently over recent weeks.
Robert Green must be wondering how he alone can seemingly be the only one to pay for the 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Reading. He has the potential to be England's Number 1 and the capacity to pull off saves he has no right to. It's hard to see how a once regular member of the England squad can not warrant a regular starting place in a team languishing at the foot of the table, particularly when he is being kept out by a craggy-faced caveman with a gambling problem who reeks of booze. If good sense prevails (which it rarely does at the Boleyn), Green will be between the sticks at Villa Park.
6 - Firing Blancos
Only just managing to find the back of the net from 6cms out with the outside of your shin does not qualify you as a striking threat, therefore Carlton Cole's place in the starting line-up should not be assured. In fact, none of our strikers have played well enough this season to insure they're an automatic selection. With Dean Ashton apparently having died from a broken ankle, Carlos Tevez still trying to figure out what ever possessed him to come to Upton Park and Marlon and Bobby Z both about as incisive as a gummy bear, the dire situation is screaming for fresh blood. Scoring one goal every 2 hours over the course of this season doesn't bode well... One goal after 60 seconds is a far better return.
Curbs would do well to start with the young Spaniard - he seems both eager and positive and has the added benefit of not having every ounce of optimism sucked from his soul in recent months, like the rest of us. Let's hope some brave selection decisions are made this weekend and not the usual load of bamboozling nonsense.
The next three games are make or break. Anything less than 6 points minimum I don't think will be good enough.
7 - Why Have You Forsaken Us, Oh Lord?
Just in case you're not all miserable enough, it has emerged today that West Ham could be docked points in the advent of the Javier Mascherano debacle. Those scumbags up at Wigan have apprently called into question whether the arrival of Tevez and Mascherano broke the Premier League's Rule U18.
Rule U18 states that a club can not sign a player owned by a 'third party' who would have the "ability materially to influence it's policies or the performance of it's teams". The new regime is declaring that they were not in charge at the time of the signings but the prospect of being docked points is real and could be the final nail in our Premiership coffin.
Let's hope those bigwigs at the Premier League who could be called upon to investigate any alleged wrongdoing are big biscuit fans. Eggy could slip them a packet of Jammy Dodgers and a few Hob-Nobs each and sweep any incriminating crumbs under the carpet.