Aston Villa play host to Blackburn on Saturday for the umpteenth time in the past three seasons. Having lost 2-0 in the league meeting at Ewood Park, Houllier’s side exacted some revenge in the FA Cup last month with a convincing performance backed up by an impressive 3-1 victory. However, Houllier has a few more selection problems this week through injuries and suspensions alike. Steve Kean should bring a reasonably full strength side to Villa Park, with captain and reported Villa target Chris Samba set to recover in time from a virus. Despite constant success from Villa’s part in their numerous cup clashes with Rovers, the visitors have the strong upper hand in league meetings having won the league meeting earlier this term, and done the double over Villa last season. Both sides are short of form of late having not won in their last three outings, though Villa’s home record should see them through this one, and hopefully avoid the drop come the end of the season with relegation a real possibility having drifted to just three points above the deadly 18th place.
Gerard Houllier will be without Carlos Cuellar, who picked up a hamstring injury which is likely to keep him out for another two or three weeks at Blackpool last time out. Having been sent off in the same game, new signing Jean Makoun starts a three match ban, which will also see him miss the FA Cup fifth round tie with Manchester City in midweek. Finally and perhaps most importantly, James Collins misses out having sustained a slight calf strain at training in the week.
Now I say this is most important as Collins is undoubtedly Villa’s best defender in terms of his aerial prowess, an aspect which will be needed against a side which are decent from Gamst Pedersen set-pieces, especially through centre-halves Samba and Nelsen. Add to that the fact that Villa have conceded more goals than any other in the Premier League, 11, and likely deputy Ciaran Clark will have to be on top form alongside Richard Dunne.
Nathan Baker returns from a three match ban after being sent off in this fixture last month for a bad tackle on Junior Hoillett, who incidentally misses out through injury. In terms of Blackburn absentees, only young, and newly contract renewed defender Phil Jones joins the promising Canadian on the treatment table, with loan signing and former favourite Roque Santa Cruz set to return up front alongside Niko Kalinic who loves playing against Villa and could be the one to watch.
Nigel Reo-Coker should keep his place in Makoun’s absence with club captain Stiliyan Petrov favourite to fill in for the Cameroonian. However, loan signing Michael Bradley will be hoping for a home debut but will have to contend with Barry Bannan and Robert Pires who both put in admirable shifts in the last meeting with Rovers with the latter having scored his first goal for the club. Fabian Delph is also fit again and hoping to feature while fellow youngster Marc Albrighton will also be hoping for a recall. However, a glimour of goalscoring hope from Gabby Agbonlahor of late may well keep the 21-year-old out. Luke Young remains the only long-term absentee, though the full-back is nearing full fitness.
Possible Starting XI: Friedel; Walker, Dunne, Clark, Baker; Downing, Reo-Coker, Bannan, Agbonlahor; A Young; Bent
Key Man: Nigel Reo-Coker
Goalscorer(s): Bent x2
Final Score: 2-0
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