Manchester City's hopes of derailing Aston Villa's drive for Champions League football have been hit by the loss of Brazilian star Robinho for Wednesday's Premier League match at Eastlands.
Robinho has failed to recover from a knee injury suffered in the defeat at West Ham on Sunday and joins Craig Bellamy on the sidelines, leaving manager Mark Hughes with a major headache in terms of attacking options. The City boss could be forced to turn to Bulgarian forward Valeri Bojinov, whose appearance as a substitute at West Ham on Sunday was his first since he ruptured an Achilles tendon in August.
"We may well have to play Boj on Wednesday, although it is probably a bit too soon to expect him to play 90 minutes in the Premier League," Hughes admitted. "I am pleased we got him on at West Ham because he has not had much Premier League experience.
"It was important that he got a taste of it as soon as possible and we were able to do that, so that was a positive. It is still early in his comeback and we will have to see how he goes. He is a good option for us."
The 1-0 defeat at West Ham epitomised how poor City have been on the road this season but Hughes's squad's home record is bettered only by their crosstown rivals United. Midfielder Stephen Ireland said the players were determined to be more consistent. "We know what we have to do to get back on track and we're going to set it right against Villa," he said.
"We missed out on a good opportunity to go seventh in the table and now we've big games coming up against top-four sides. Hopefully we can get out of this cycle of losing away from home, but the big clubs tend to bring out the best in us."
Villa will be looking to consolidate their grip on fourth place in the table and Martin O'Neill's side will be able go give their all at Eastlands, knowing that a weekend off in the Dubai sunshine awaits them thanks to their early exit from the FA Cup. Having squandered a two-goal lead against Stoke on Sunday, O'Neill's men also have to demonstrate that their nerve is not failing them as the season heads for a tense finale.
"We can give the Manchester City game everything, as we then have a 10-day break," said Villa's Norway striker, John Carew. "We need to get our momentum going again with a victory."
Villa travel north looking for an eighth consecutive away league win but they have now gone five matches without triumphing in the league, FA Cup and UEFA Cup over the last fortnight. O'Neill could certainly do with Emile Heskey being fit for Wednesday evening but the England forward faces a late test of his troublesome Achilles.
If Heskey does not make it, Carew is likely to make his first league start since returning from a back problem last month. Dutch defender Wilfred Bouma is not being considered despite playing his first match in eight months, for the reserves earlier this week. Bouma had been out with a dislocated ankle.