Aston Villa Club Focus – McLeish faces the Holte End for the first time

Aston Villa get their home campaign underway with a visit from Blackburn Rovers. Villa are well acquainted with Steve Kean’s men after facing them in both the FA Cup and the Carling Cup at Villa Park last season and know they are in for a tough battle.

Villa Park groundsman Jonathan Calderwood has had his own tough battle with the Villa Park pitch this summer. After the club elected to host Take That concerts, that cut down the time by half for Calderwood and his staff to get the turf ready. The pitch looks resplendent and Calderwood said he enjoyed the challenge of trying to get the pitch perfect in time.

On this new Villa Park surface, McLeish expects to get the ball down and play football against Rovers this Saturday. New signing Charles N’Zogbia is expected to make his home debut in a Villa shirt and goalkeeper Shay Given has shaken off a groin injury sustained in the draw with Fulham to take his bow in front of the adoring Holte End. Given’s performance last weekend at Craven Cottage was magnificent and he earned Villa the point – a point they will look to move on from and grab three in their first home contest of the season.

Manager Alex McLeish is poised to use the same starting line-up as last weekend and use his three pronged attack of Darren Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey to cause problems across the Villa backline. McLeish is excited for his first game at the “phenomenal” Villa Park and is eager for the crowd to get behind the side.

McLeish said: “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to taking my place in the dugout. Ever since I moved across the city, there’s obviously been a lot of controversy. It would be great to think that you just turn up on the pitch and the fans give you full backing from start to finish, but we know that we have to excite them.”

The former Birmingham City manager has also spoke of how he will not shirk away from the challenge of bringing success to Villa Park and has called for the fans to intimidate the opposition and turn Villa Park into a fortress. Villa are riding the crest of a good form wave, which has seen them lose just once in their last nine Premier League outings. Darren Bent in particular is looking forward to the fixture against Rovers after scoring three goals in the last four outings he has faced Blackburn. Bent is also looking forward to the thought of linking up with wide-man Charles N’Zogbia on a regular basis.

The England forward said: “Charles came in for the game against Fulham and even though he played for an hour, there were still some wicked balls he sent in during his time out on the pitch. Once he gets a bit more match sharpness, he’ll be superb. I can’t wait for that, I am relishing it.”

Villa will be confident they can pick up three points in the contest and try and build their charge up the Premier League table, improving on their ninth placed finish last season. McLeish will need to pick up points quickly, before the crowd turn on the former Blues manager and things could turn sour at Villa Park.

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