Saturday's big match preview

Aston Villa v West Ham United Saturday, April 18, 3pm Villa Park IF YOU think West Ham s season is running out of steam, just think about the plight of Aston Villa. At one time they were hot favourites for a Champions League place and well clear of Arsena

Aston Villa v West Ham United

Saturday, April 18, 3pm

Villa Park

IF YOU think West Ham's season is running out of steam, just think about the plight of Aston Villa.


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At one time they were hot favourites for a Champions League place and well clear of Arsenal, now they trail the Gunners by eight points and are looking nervously over their shoulders at Everton in the battle for fifth slot.

No victories in the last 10 have put paid to that Champions League dream and the fault also lays with their form at Villa Park, where they have won just five games all season.

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Their form has certainly shown signs of improvement in the past couple of weeks. After the 5-0 drubbing at Liverpool, they were unlucky to lose 3-2 at Old Trafford and then fought back twice to earn a 3-3 draw with Everton over the weekend.

Villa's last home win though was way back in January when they beat West Brom 2-1 and that game coincided with the last played by Danish defender Martin Laursen, before he was ruled out for the rest of the season through injury.

He has been sorely missed by Martin O'Neill's men as without their solid defence, the Villa speedsters at the other end have not been able to break with their usual efficiency.

O'Neill brought in Emile Heskey in January, but the England striker has scored just one goal, before joining Laursen on the treatment table.

That though has left the door open for John Carew to return to the side, and the dangerous striker is now top scorer for Villa with 13 goals, just ahead of Gabriel Agbonlahor with 12.

Villa were fortunate to take all three points at Upton Park back in December when a Lucas Neill own goal settled the game, but their luck seems to have eluded them since then, and they look like a team coming to the end of a very long and tiring campaign.

West Ham last won at Villa Park in 2006 when Bobby Zamora and a Marlon Harewood penalty saw them come from a goal down for a 2-1 victory.

Gianfranco Zola will be looking for something similar on Saturday, but though the Birmingham outfit look suspect at the back with the likes of Zat Knight and Curtis Davies, without a top class striker, they may struggle to beat Brad Friedel in the Villa goal.

Nigel Reo-Coker may come off the bench to give West Ham fans something to shout about, but there may not be much else.

Probable team: Frie-del, Young L, Davies, Kni-ght, Shorey, Milner, Petrov, Barry, Young A, Agbonlahor, Carew.

Prediction:

Aston Villa 2 West Ham 0

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