Houllier eyes derby victory for fans

Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier views tomorrow's derby against Birmingham City as the perfect opportunity to win over the club's supporters.

The Frenchman has found his position under scrutiny in recent weeks following Villa's slide into the relegation zone and fans even called for him to be sacked after their most recent Premier League game, the 1-0 defeat to Sunderland at Villa Park.

Last weekend's 3-1 victory at Sheffield United in the FA Cup relieved at least some of the pressure and Houllier believes a win over Villa's biggest rivals at St Andrew's would be the ideal way to gain their support.

"The players and I are aware this is an opportunity to please our fans," said Houllier. "Like them, we are hurt and not happy with the position we are in at this moment in the Premier League. It is another incentive to do well, first of all because it is a derby and for the fans it is very important. But also because we don't want to stay in the position we are. We know that.

There will be a lot of commitment. It will be fierce. But at the same time it will be something the two sets of fans will relish.
Gerard Houllier on tomorrow's derby

"It is a challenge and we need to get out of this position as soon as possible. It is a derby, it is a different ball game as everyone knows. There will be a lot of commitment. It will be fierce. But at the same time it will be something the two sets of fans will relish."

Houllier, who could complete the transfer of Jean Makoun from Lyon this weekend, is also set to hand striker John Carew a surprise return against City.

Carew, Villa's top scorer in the previous three campaigns, looked to have played his last game for Villa after falling out of favour under the Frenchman in recent weeks, but the absence of suspended duo Ashley Young and Emile Heskey has forced Houllier's hand.

The Norway international, a target for West Bromwich Albion, has not started a game for Villa since the defeat at home to Arsenal in November, while he has failed to feature in any of their last eight games.

"He had a very good work of training to be fair and we worked extremely hard especially on Tuesday and Wednesday," said Houllier. "In the games yesterday morning he looked fit. He looked good - in fact he looked very good. I told him. He was scoring goals, it's a good omen. He will be in the squad. He'll be involved."

Bentley could make debut
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish admits Villa's position has not come as a total shock. "Nothing surprises me in this league, you've got to respect this league. This season has been crazy, the quality and competitiveness has gone up, five points separate West Ham [at the bottom] and Everton [in 12th]. We are one of a few in that mix," said McLeish, whose side are just a point ahead of Villa.

"I am looking forward to it. We are at home, the rivalry between the fans, and we look forward to a great game and we look forward to the fans supporting their teams from the terraces and having the banter that goes with it."

McLeish, linked with a £6million swoop for Tottenham Hotspur's Robbie Keane yesterday, is expected to hand a debut to loan signing David Bentley but Scott Dann is ruled out with a torn hamstring.