Blackburn v Aston Villa preview

06 February 2009 10:25
Aston Villa travel to Blackburn on Saturday aiming to open up an eight-point gap over Arsenal as they bid for a UEFA Champions League berth.

Last weekend saw both Villa and Arsenal slip up via 0-0 stalemates at home to Wigan and West Ham respectively. A number of boos reverberated around Villa Park at the final whistle, with both Martin O'Neill and captain Gareth Barry expressing their surprise given the monumental strides taken by the club this season.

An away day trip to Ewood Park hardly offers guarantees that they'll return to winning ways, with Sam Allardyce having curbed a losing run and instilled a never-say-die attitude upon his appointment.

Allardyce has probably drawn too many games for his liking since replacing Paul Ince but an unbeaten record, and progression in the FA Cup, is testimony to the solid job he has done to date on his return to the North West.

Both clubs were involved in FA Cup replays in midweek and it can be expected changes will be made upon their return to league action.

Benni's backRovers striker Benni McCarthy came off the substitutes' bench on Wednesday night to great effect, as he secured Rovers' progression at the expense of Sunderland, and it seems likely the South African will start alongside Roque Santa Cruz at the expense of Jason Roberts.

Aaron Mokoena's goal and impressive display is unlikely to save him from the axe, with Keith Andrews likely to return, while Christopher Samba, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Vince Grella are also likely to figure having been given a break in midweek.

Brett Emerton's long-term injury prohibits his involvement but otherwise Blackburn will be in decent spirits, having gone undefeated in their last nine games in all competitions, winning four and drawing five.

The most emotional man in Ewood Park on Saturday is likely to be Brad Friedel, who makes his first Rovers return since moving to Villa in the summer after eight years service at Blackburn.

Like Blackburn, it seems likely Villa will make wholesale changes to the side that beat Doncaster in midweek, with a host of rested stars returning to O'Neill's first XI.

John Carew and Steve Sidwell both staked claims for a start with goals in the 3-1 cup success but it seems likely the former, still not match fit after a lengthy lay-off, will have to content himself with a role on the bench.

Young gunCarew is likely to be replaced by new signing Emile Heskey, with Gabriel Agbonlahor to usurp another goalscorer, starlet Nathan Delfouneso, in attack.

Ashley Young's return after a three-game suspension is a real fillip, as he showed no ill-affects to an enforced break on Wednesday, but O'Neill's biggest conundrum is where to fit everybody in.

Stiliyan Petrov and Gareth Barry will form a central axis in midfield, with Ashley Young to replace Craig Gardner out wide.

In Martin Laursen's absence, Zat Knight will continue at the back alongside Curtis Davies, with Luke Young and Carlos Cueller keeping out Nicky Shorey in the full-back positions.

Possible starting XIs

Blackburn: Robinson, Ooijer, Warnock, Nelsen, Samba, Andrews, Grella, Gamst Pedersen, Dunn, McCarthy, Santa Cruz.

Villa: Friedel, Cuellar, L Young, Davies, Knight, Barry, Petrov, Sidwell, A Young, Agbonlahor, Heskey.

Source: SKY_Sports