Gerard Houllier is hoping to exact on Steve Bruce’s Sunderland after losing 1-0 in the fixture earlier in the season at the Stadium of Light. After a poor run of form and results the Frenchman has been buoyed by a dramatic leveller which saw them draw 3-3 at league champions, Chelsea. Speculation was rife regarding the new manager’s position at the club following a shambolic display which saw the side lose 4-0 at Manchester City. Houllier recalled the likes of Ciaran Clark and was blessed by the return of both Ashley Young and Emile Heskey with all 3 scoring in the away game. He also brought Richard Dunne back into a much strengthened and more experienced starting line-up which performed admirably in the tie. The 63-year-old is starting to get a near fully fit squad to choose from although he may be without the likes of Gabby Agbonlahor and Luke Young in Wednesday’s match-up.
Villa have still only lost one game at home all season despite languishing in 15th place in the Premier League and host Sunderland in midweek who have impressed this season, finding themselves in and around the Europa League places. Stephen Warnock, who missed the game at Chelsea with a back injury is fit again but will have to fight for his left-back berth with Ciaran Clark who played well in an unfamiliar role, bagging the late equaliser at Stamford Bridge.
Of the side that faced Chelsea, the only real doubt is Gabby Agbonlahor who was withdrawn late on with a groin problem. Marc Albrighton will be hoping to be a like-for-like replacement with Agbonlahor playing on the left last time out. The young winger had an eventful 5 minutes as his replacement, first losing possession to gift Chelsea a third and then teeing up a superb cross to allow Clark to equalise. The likes of John Carew and Stephen Ireland have been assured that they still have a future at the club but are unlikely to feature once more. Luke Young is still a serious doubt with a knee injury along with Fabian Delph, meaning Carlos Cuellar is likely to continue at right back.
Nedum Onuoha is a doubt for the visitors along with the likes of strike duo Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck although the latter is more likely to recover in time. Frazer Campbell and Michael Turner are both absent through knee injuries with Cattermole (hamstring) and Mensah (ankle) also both unfit to feature.
Bruce’s side will be in confident mood after a convincing 3-0 victory over Blackburn on New Year’s Day and will also be hoping that an extra day of preparation will work in their favour. The return fixture in October saw Villa fall to a 1-0 defeat courtesy of a Richard Dunne own goal. The error made the Irishman the all time top own goal scorer in the league’s history, a proud moment, and after returning to the fold on Sunday, Dunne will be hoping to have a more fortunate game on Wednesday evening.
With regards to your pointless stats for this fixture, Villa have lost just 1 of their last 12 home games against the Black Cats in a 1-0 defeat two years ago. If Sunderland were to win then they would achieve their first league double over the Villans in 18 years. Despite the gutsy performance against Chelsea, shipping 3 more goals gave Villa the worst defensive record in the league after mastering the art of the clean sheet under Martin O’Neill. On the contrary Sunderland have been extremely tight at the back, keeping a joint Premier League high of 1 clean sheets this season. The draw was the club’s first point that they had obtained after going a goal down all season. Houllier’s men also have the worst record in terms of holding onto leads having dropped 14 points from winning positions this campaign.
Possible Starting XI: Friedel; Cuellar, Dunne, Collins, Clark; Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Downing; A Young; Heskey
Key Man: Emile Heksey
Goalscorer(s): Heskey, Albrighton
Final Score: 2-1
To view a match preview from the Sunderland perspective visit http://rokerreport.com/2011/01/03/aston-villa-preview/ where there is also an interview with fellow Villa blogger Damian Dugdale ahead of tonight’s game – http://rokerreport.com/2011/01/05/fan-focus-aston-villa-pre-match-views/
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