Aston Villa travel to Fulham tomorrow in need of a win after picking up just 2 points from a possible 12. The away day at Craven Cottage is an exceptionally difficult one with Mark Hughes continuing Roy Hodgson’s accomplishment of making his side extremely hard to beat at home. Under normal circumstances many Villa fans wouldn’t be too disheartened with a draw but after a poor run of form culminated in a dismal performance against the Blues on Sunday, Gerard Houllier is in desperate need of three points. It has been hard going for the Frenchman so far but is only going to get harder in the coming weeks after injuries to his two remaining fit senior strikers.
Emile Heskey and John Carew joined Gabby Agbonlahor on the treatment table this week after picking up knee and calf injuries respectively in training. The absences mean that the Frenchman has been forced into handing 19-year-old striker Nathan Delfouneso a first Premier League start, a chance that many Villa fans would have been waiting for more than the player himself! The pacey striker has been in fine form for the reserves after netting 4 in his last 3 games but his first team chances have been few and far between. Houllier will be hoping that Delfouneso can hit the ground running with his three injured strikers not expecting to return for at least 2 weeks, Agbonlahor being most likely to make his comeback first after joining training this week.
On a positive note the visitors will have emerging talent Marc Albrighton back from suspension after missing out in the derby due to a red card received in the Carling Cup. Luke Young made his return last weekend and is likely to retain his place at right back. The impressive Ciaran Clark may also have earned a start after starring, which admittedly wasn’t difficult, in the Birmingham game on Sunday. The natural centre back could well keep a place alongside captain Nigel Reo-Coker in midfield after Steve Sidwell failed to impress. Fellow youngster Barry Bannan will also be in contention after a decent cameo performance in a week which has seen him become a likely call up for a first senior international cap with Scotland. Stephen Ireland was victim of some harsh criticism from his manager this week after struggling to settle at his new club. The midfielder may have to be content with another substitute appearance after being overlooked in favour of Bannan and defender Clark last week.
The hosts returned to winning ways last weekend after successive defeats ended Hughes unbeaten start in the league at Fulham. The 2-0 win over Wigan came courtesy of two Clint Dempsey goals and the American may well be the Cottagers main threat once more. New signing Moussa Dembele started his Fulham career in decent form but injury stunted his progress. Now back from injury the striker will be another goal threat replacing the injured Bobby Zamora. Andy Johnson made his comeback from a lengthy spell on the sidelines last week and is in contention but likely to start on the bench due to a lack of match fitness.
The two clubs occupy 10th and 14th respectively but are separated only by goal difference ahead of this weekends clash. Fulham have lost just two all season although last weekends win was also only their second after 6 draws in their opening 7 games kept them in mid table. Good news for Villa is that Fulham have not picked up back-to-back wins in the league in 22 games.
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