Having overcome Newcastle last weekend in an albeit unspectacular manner, Villa manager Gerard Houllier is likely to name an unchanged side to that which won 1-0 last time out. Much improved performances from the likes of Stiliyan Petrov and Gabby Agbonlahor, who has recovered from a muscle strain to travel to London, should keep them in the side. Abject displays from new signings Walker and Makoun may mean that their places are less certain with a strong line-up of subs hoping for a return to action in a fully fit squad for the Frenchman.
The Hammers have been at the foot of the league all season due, in no small part, to a defence rivalling Villa’s for their generosity. However, Avram ‘Candle’ Grant has turned the side around somewhat with some decent signings and has been boosted by the return from injury of an old Villa icon. Thomas ‘the Hammer’ Hitzlsperger will be hoping to prove the club wrong for letting him leave the club on a free in 2005. The German international has only just recovered from a lengthy spell out but in his first 6 games since his comeback he netted twice and set-up a further 4 goals in a solid midfield alongside Parker and Noble. Demba Ba has also shone and the likes of Piquionne and Obinna have proved decent acquisitions for a struggling club with no lack of fire power.
Both sides have no real injury concerns so this should be a good game with only one youngster from each team missing, in Junior Stanislas for the hosts and Fabian Delph (groin) for the visitors. Having gone on a decent run in March, Grant’s side have lost their last two, including a humiliating 3-0 collapse to Bolton last time out. In contrast Villa have picked up good results in their last two outings, drawing away to Everton prior to Sunday’s crucial victory.
As mentioned before, club captain Stiliyan Petrov’s return to form should be enough to keep the Bulgarian’s slot in midfield although his partner, Makoun, was less impressive with Reo-Coker waiting in the wings. Ciaran Clark had hoped to return last time out having completed a two game suspension but was kept out of the side by Dunne and Collins who both performed well.
At left back, Luke Young again deputised admirably and has been solid all season so should keep his place but could revert to his preferred right-back position after Kyle Walker put in somewhat shaky performances against Everton and Newcastle. This could mean that Clark may again fill in at left-back as he has done for much of the season, though Cuellar will also be looking to come in.
Marc Albrighton, who stole the show in the early half of the season, has been unlucky not to have played much of a part in 2011 but is set to continue on the bench with the news of Gabby Agbonlahor’s fitness meaning that Houllier is likely to stick with a 4-4-2 formation that much of the fans have been calling for all season. Emile Heskey joins Albrighton in the unlucky category having shown rejuvenated form upon the new manager’s arrival but is set to be overlooked again.
As for West Ham, Carlton Cole should keep his place up top alongside Demba Ba though the club lack any real wingers in the side of late, with new signings Hitzlsperger and Gary O’Neil joining mainstays Mark Noble and talisman Scott Parker in midfield of late. A weak defence should prove profitable for Villa’s threatening and fast paced counter attacks so expect goals for both sides, despite a much awaited clean sheet for Villa last weekend.
Possible Starting XI: Friedel; L Young, Dunne, Collins, Clark; Downing, Reo-Coker, Petrov, A Young; Agbonlahor, Bent
Key Man: Gabby Agbonlahor
Goalscorer(s): Agbonlahor, Downing
Final Score: 2-2
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