Stoke have had an indifferent start to the season, having lost their opening three games, but their performances have been rather better than the results they've obtained, so manager Tony Pulis will not be too concerned just yet. After losing narrowly at Wolves on the opening day, they were very unlucky not to earn their first point against Tottenham, when they were denied what seemed to be a legitimate equaliser, the ball appearing to cross the line before being blocked by Peter Crouch. Had the decision gone their way they would have emerged with a 2-2 home draw.
They then offered dogged resistance to champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, where the blue juggernaut was restricted to a 2-0 win. Considering that Chelsea have scored two sixes and a three in their other games to date, conceding just two can be regarded as a decent effort by the Potters. It was an obdurate showing that included a penalty save by Thomas Sorensen and Glenn Whelan striking the bar from 30 yards with the score at 1-0.
Pulis will feel that with such tight margins between something and nothing, his side need just a little more luck to get their campaign up and running. Certainly on their own patch they are likely to provide a stern test for Villa and, indeed, most of the other teams in the league.
And they received some good news this week when Pulis ruled himself out of contention for the Wales managerial position vacated by John Toshack.
The Welshman who has engineered the club's upturn in recent seasons will no doubt be hoping that his commitment to Stoke will boost his players ahead of this fixture and spur them on to pick up their first win and points of the campaign....while Houllier is on his way to Villa Park
Meanwhile there’s a new era at Aston Villa, although the man who has replaced the departed Martin O’Neill will have to follow events from afar on Monday as his new charges try to break down Stoke.
Gerard Houllier is the man now at the helm at Villa, but it could be up to a fortnight before he can make his Premier League comeback as he has yet to agree a departure date with the French Football Federation.
He will, though, be in attendance at Villa Park when Bolton visit for a League match on September 18, and the ex-Liverpool and Lyon boss could take charge of the team for the first time for the midweek League Cup clash against Blackburn Rovers, or, failing that, the Premier League trip to Wolves on September 26.
Kevin MacDonald will continue to manage first team affairs at the Britannia Stadium on Monday, but will return to his job as reserve team boss once Houllier is fully installed.
Houllier was disappointed that MacDonald, who picked up the reins following O'Neill's shock departure in August, had turned down the chance to work as his assistant. Phil Thompson, who assisted Houllier at Anfield, has also rejected that opportunity.
Houllier is therefore still seeking an assistant, while MacDonald's immediate task is to avoid a second straight away loss. Villa were hammered 6-0 by Newcastle the last time they hit the road, but that defeat was sandwiched by a 3-0 victory over West Ham and a 1-0 win at home to Everton. The Villans failed at the first hurdle in the Europa League against Rapid Vienna so Houllier will be hoping MacDonald can generate a feel-good factor by achieving a positive result at Stoke.
Tony Pulis will look to give debuts to all his deadline-day signings – Eidur Gudjohnson, Marc Wilson and Jermaine Pennant.
However, goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen could miss the game after picking up an elbow infection while on international duty with Denmark in midweek. Mamady Sidibe is another absentee with an Achilles injury.
Possible Starting XI: Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Faye, Wilson; Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington; Jones, Gudjohnsen.
Aston Villa will be sweating over the fitness of striker John Carew after he limped out of Norway’s game in midweek.
Villa also have doubts over the fitness of new signing Stephen Ireland after he picked up an injury in the win against Everton two weeks ago.
Other that that Kevin MacDonald has a fully fit squad to choose from.
Possible Starting XI: Friedel; L Young, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Downing; A Young, Agbonlahor.
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