Poor defensive performances have been Villa’s downfall and they were undone by errors in their last two games. Two goals from set-pieces allowed Liverpool a 2-0 win last Sunday and Arsenal’s winner at Villa Park in midweek came from a corner. The goal was scored by Yossi Benayoun, one of the smallest players on the field, and McLeish will be desperate to sort out his defence. Villa should see the return of striker Darren Bent after a thigh injury, as well as Emile Heskey and James Collins. Midfielder Stephen Ireland should overcome his thigh strain, but defender Alan Hutton serves a ban for his red card against Arsenal. Villa fans have been appearing less and less since McLeish took over, but the Villa players should have support at the Britannia Stadium. Boos were echoing around Villa Park against Liverpool last weekend and McLeish has to turn the fortunes of the club around quickly.
Stoke will have a noisy support behind them in the evening kick-off and Tony Pulis’ men can rely on their crowd to act as the 12th man in every home tie. The Britannia Stadium has been vacant for the last two games, as Stoke went on their travels. A good win against Wolves last weekend was followed up by a lacklustre performance against Manchester City, where Stoke seemed to play too defensively and were undone by City 3-0. Pulis could see the return of former Villa forward Peter Crouch after he missed the midweek clash with illness. Crouch is on 99 league goals and will be looking to hit treble figures with a goal against Villa. Glenn Whelan is doubtful with a calf problem, but Stoke have Ryan Shawcross available following suspension.
Stoke are two places inside the top half, whereas Villa are two places outside the top half. The game is difficult to call, but Stoke should see this one through in a tight encounter. All signs lead to Peter Crouch scoring not only his 100th league goal, but the winner against former side Villa.