Downing: Win would be boost for Houllier
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Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing has called on his team-mates to give ill manager Gerard Houllier a much-needed tonic by beating Stoke City tomorrow.

Houllier will spend the Easter weekend under observation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham after falling ill earlier this week. Assistant manager Gary McAllister is in charge for Stoke's visit to Villa Park and it remains to be seen whether Houllier will return to the dugout before the end of the season.

Although Villa have not revealed the nature of Houllier's problem, he had open heart surgery in October 2001 while he was managing Liverpool after suffering severe chest pains during a match against Leeds United.

It is believed more chest pains forced the Frenchman to check himself into hospital on Wednesday. Houllier has had disagreements with several of Villa's squad this season, but Downing insists everyone at the club wants to win tomorrow to show their support.

Hopefully, a good result on Saturday will be the perfect boost for him [Gerard Houllier].
Stewart Downing, Aston Villa winger

The England international told the club's website: "Obviously, everyone at the club is concerned for the manager. It's never nice, an experience like this, especially for his family.

"But the news is that he's going to be all right and that's pleasing and reassuring. A good win against Stoke on Saturday will help him no doubt. In fact, the last couple of weeks have been good and I'm sure the gaffer will want us to continue in this vein.

"That's what Gary McAllister told us, that the gaffer wants us to carry on playing like we're playing and to win as many points as we can between now and the end of the season. Hopefully, a good result on Saturday will be the perfect boost for him."

Villa's England striker Darren Bent echoed Downing's sentiments, saying: "All of the players wish the gaffer a speedy recovery. We want him to be back as soon as possible. But his health comes first and we need him to get better and hopefully he'll be back soon."