Aston Villa Club Focus – McLeish faces his toughest test so far at Goodison Park

Aston Villa’s start to the season has been steady. A stalemate at Craven Cottage on the opening day was followed by a comfortable 3-1 victory over struggling Blackburn in Alex McLeish’s first home fixture as Villa boss. Villa should have put away Wolves at Villa Park in their last outing, but will be happy that they preserved their unbeaten start.

Now, the test begins for McLeish. An away day challenge at Goodison Park, with a disgruntled support planning to protest march against chairman Bill Kenwright before the game, will test the quality of the Villa outfit. Everton are a team on the ropes with a home defeat to QPR not the ideal medicine to a summer of worry over their finances. Villa will feel they can head to Merseyside and capture all three points.

McLeish has Shay Given between the Villa sticks, which could turn out to be one of the best signings of the summer in terms of both value and performance. Given had been suffering with a tight groin, but his impressive performance to shut out Russia in the Republic of Ireland’s draw in Moscow looks as if those injury fears have subsided.

The Villa boss spoke over the Given injury update and revealed that the working relationship between the Villa medical staff and their FAI counterparts is strong, so that Given would not have played if he was injured. McLeish said: “He started for Ireland in Russia and had been declared fit. I didn’t think Shay was going to have a problem, because what really gave him trouble in the last game was when he jarred his back a bit.”

“The groin injury he had seems to be fine, but the wee knock on the back has set him back a bit in terms of the training full-on, but has not stopped him playing the games and he should be fit for the weekend. We have a close relationship with the FAI and they will be mindful of not letting him play with an injury,” the Villa boss added.

One more key injury concern for McLeish is the fitness of star striker Darren Bent. The England international was removed from the England camp with a groin problem and has been back at Bodymoor Heath – Villa’s training ground – all week to try and get him fit for Saturday. McLeish is hopeful that the 27-year-old will be ready to play against Everton and has revealed that Bent’s problem is not a serious injury that could rule him out for three to four games.

“He’s not going to miss three or four games or anything like that. Now, we are trying to get him ready for the weekend. It is not a serious injury. He is not going to be out for two or three week,” the former Birmingham manager added. No Bent would be a massive blow for McLeish, but he is confident that his squad could adapt to get Villa a victory at Goodison Park. Those Villa fans making the trip to Everton will be hoping for a positive result and for McLeish’s side to continue their unbeaten start to the season, but the trip will not be easy. Villa will face a fight from a recoiling Everton side desperate to show their off-field problems do not affect their football.

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