By Tom Powell
Friday 18 Apr 2008 11:29:14
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Sunday looks like being possibly the biggest day of Villa’s season to date. A win could see them close the gap on fifth placed Everton who seem to be stumbling towards the finish line, and with a trip to Goodison Park to come Europe is back on Villa’s radar. As if the match wasn’t important enough their opponents are city rivals Birmingham who need the points just as desperately as they bid to stave off relegation, it all makes for quite an interesting Sunday afternoon.

Ten goals in two games has seen confidence come flowing back to Villa Park and last weekends 6-0 thumping of Derby will surely make them favourites for this weekend’s fixture. Birmingham on the other hand will take heart from a well earned point against Everton at the end of a week which saw their Managing Director and owner arrested in reference to alleged corruption.

The main injury news for Martin O’Neill’s men is the possible return of midfielder Craig Gardner who has been missing for the last few weeks with a thigh strain. “He trained on Monday - that was his first day back,” the Villa boss told the club's official website. “He's been desperate to get out there with the rest of the players. It was pleasing to see him out there and he's smiling again. He's got this week now and hopefully if he doesn't have any setbacks he'll get a full week's work in. That's what we're trying to do.”

Gardner looks set to take his place on the bench as Martin O’Neill appears likely to field the same eleven that crushed Derby. That team should include midfielder Stiliyan Petrov whose sensational strike at Pride Park confirms his return to form. Petrov was talking this week of his relief at working his way back into his manager’s plans. He told, “When I don't play, I always blame myself first. I don't blame anybody else. But I always work as hard as I can to get back in, to take the positives from my experiences and move forward. I'll always be like that. Maybe he (O'Neill) decided I wasn't playing the way he wanted me to play, and that's why he dropped me. I accept that. I just hope now the Villa fans have started to see the best of me in these last three games.”

On the other side of the city Alex Mcleish will be checking on the fitness of Olivier Kapo who could return from a hamstring injury. Martin Taylor and Sebastian Larsson will miss out though as they continue their comeback from a groin strain and knee ligament injury respectively. Mcleish’s biggest decision may be whether or not to hand a start to Argentine wonderkid Mauro Zarate who came off the bench to score the equaliser against Everton last week.

Mcleish has been speaking this week of his side’s need to forget about the occasion and not to let the occasion get the better of them. He told the club’s official website, “If they go into the game with utter belief in themselves and not be overawed by the situation, which I know they won’t be, I’m sure we can get a result that everybody will be proud of.” Mcleish has made it clear however that everybody is aware of the form Villa are in. “They stuttered a little bit and Martin maybe gave them his words of wisdom and over the last two weeks they have completely destroyed the two teams that they have played.”

This season’s corresponding fixture saw Villa claim the city’s bragging rights after coming away from St. Andrew’s with a 2-1 victory. Mikkael Forssell cancelled out Liam Ridgwell’s own goal before Gabriel Agbonlahor headed an 87th minute winner. The last time these two sides came head-to-head at Villa Park Milan Baros scored either side of a Gary Cahill bicycle kick to give Villa a 3-1 win.

My prediction was wrong against Bolton and wrong against Derby but I’m sure I will be forgiven considering the results of those two matches. My lack of faith in Villa has served me well over the last few weeks and so I’m going to remain faithless. I’m forecasting a 2-0 loss this Sunday as the occasion gets to the Villa youngsters, fingers crossed I’m wrong……again.

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