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Villa Look to Strengthen at Both Ends in GK and CF Link

Gerard Houllier continues to be on the lookout to strengthen his Villa ranks for next season on the assumption that Villa will avoid the drop with 8 ‘wars’ remaining this term. The Villa boss has been on the lookout for a long-term replacement for veteran keeper Brad Friedel for some time now, with the 39-year-old yet to be offered a new contract with the club. The club seemingly remain interested in Bolton stopper, on loan at Wigan, Ali Al-Habsi. The Oman international has been in spectacular form this season, despite being unable to prevent the Latics dropping to the league’s lowest position with some suggesting that the 29-year-old is in with a chance of a place in the PFA Team of the Year. In other news, the Daily Mail report that Villa are likely to do battle with the likes of Newcastle for Reading and Ireland’s Shane Long. The young hitman has been in impressive form in the Championship this term and is expected to be playing Premier League football next term, but not with the Royals. For more information and stats on the duo

Ali Al-Habsi has been around the English game for some time now, and at 29 is only recently getting credit through regular first team football at the DW Stadium. The keeper’s loan signing has seen former number 1 at Wigan Chris Kirkland demoted and the Oman national attract interest from a long list of suitors, the latest of which are title hopefuls Arsenal who have just resigned Jens Lehmann to offer competition to Manuel Almunia so no surprises that there still looking! Liverpool and Celtic have also been touted with a move in the region of around £5m with Bolton boss Owen Coyle holding the stopper in high regard. However, the Trotters have just renewed reserve keeper Adam Bogdan’s deal at the club and Jussi Jaaskelainen remains a favourite at the Reebok, refuelling speculation that Al-Habsi will be allowed to leave.

Al-Habsi has been the mainstay in the Oman goal for years now, having accumulated 68 caps, though Oman’s second best goalkeeper may well be me I’m not sure. In 31 games for Wigan in all competitions this year, the keeper has conceded 44 goals which is commendable when you consider their defence! In those games he has kept a total of 7 clean sheets and has rightly been applauded for some fantastic performances and reaction stops this season. Good signing in my opinion, £5m about right.

Shane Long has been in and around the Reading set-up for a number of years now, despite only being 24. A lively, right place – right time sort of striker, I would suggest he is pretty similar in terms of playing style to Darren Bent so whether the two could forge a partnership is uncertain. Long has turned out for the Republic of Ireland on 18 occasions, netting 5 goals, but it is form at the Madjeski Stadium which has caught the eye this term. In 41 games in all competitions he has scored 20 goals at a rate of 1 every 171 minutes (just under two games). One facet of his game that Bent perhaps doesn’t possess as much would be an ability to set up his team-mates having picked up an impressive 13 assists in the league alone this season. Not sure of an asking price but I’d suggest around the £4m mark may tempt Reading into a sale.

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