By Matt Farr
Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce is expected to make at least three changes to his side for their Boxing Day Championship clash with Burton Albion.
Scotland striker Ross McCormack, who has just two goals from 17 appearances in all competitions, is expected to give way, allowing highly-rated youngster Jack Grealish to come into the team.
Midfielder Ashley Westwood is also expected to return in place of Gary Gardner, who signed a new contract on Friday, with the experienced Gabriel Agbonlahor also coming in for Leandro Bacuna.
Grealish has contributed three goals and four assists from 18 games this season, but was dropped to the bench against Queens Park Rangers last time out.
Bruce has no new injury or fitness concerns ahead of the clash, meaning it will just be a case of rotating the squad to keep players fit ahead of a gruelling couple of weeks. Villa have as many as six games to play in January, with two also remaining this month.
Goalkeeper Mark Bunn is expected to retain the no.1 jersey amid the ongoing criticism of youngster Pierluigi Gollini. Bunn was reinstated to the Villa first-team against QPR, and has made just four appearances this season.
The back-four is expected to remain unchanged, with Nathan Baker keeping his place alongside James Chester at the heart of the defence – despite only recently returning from injury.
Mile Jedinak has been the midfield mainstay under Steve Bruce, and Ashley Westwood could partner him against Burton. The English midfielder has made 20 league appearances this season, but the Villa boss ran with Gary Gardner last time out.
Meanwhile, Agbonlahor and Albert Adomah are expected to be named as Villa’s wide-men. Adomah has four assists so far this season, while Agbonlahor is set to be recalled to add more experience to the attack.
Grealish did not feature against QPR, but is expected to feature against Burton in a central attacking-midfield role. In the no.10 role, Grealish will have the freedom to influence the game more than in the wider areas, and be the central figure in the final third.
Lastly, barring no sudden fitness concerns, Jonathan Kodjia will lead the line. The Ivory Coast striker is Villa’s top goalscorer this season with eight goals, and is in good form.
Bruce’s side will be looking to extend their winning run on Boxing Day against an out-of-form opponent.
13th-placed Villa have lost just two of their last 10 league games, while Burton have only two wins in 10 league games, and are on a run of three consecutive defeats.
In other Aston Villa team news, here is how fans reacted to Gary Gardner’s new contract.