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City v Aston Villa preview

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A meeting tomorrow evening between two sides who are desperate for the points to sustain bids for the European positions - Villa's of course having far loftier ambitions than our own at present.

Mark Hughes feels that the pressure of occupying fourth place, with the accompanying expectations are beginning to tell on our opponents, and there is a certain degree of truth to that. Villa have stuttered in recent matches and have thrown away a couple of excellent opportunities of late to put a huge distance between themselves and Arsenal.

There are signs that Villa are tiring after a season that began in the Intertoto qualifiers, and their surrender in the last round of the UEFA Cup is evidence that Martin O'Neill is aware of this. To be fair to O'Neill though (and this is something he has acknowledged) is that this is arguably as good a chance as Villa could get to secure Champions League qualification and if there are sacrifices that have to be made then it is something he is willing to do.

I am intrigued to see Villa tomorrow. Whilst Villa have impressed this season from what little I have seen, I do think they over achieved though. By that I do mean it as a compliment, as I think that (like he did at Celtic) although they have talent in the side O'Neill has implemented a system that really does get the maximum out of his side - perhaps the sum being greater than its parts.

Villa have of course been held up as an example of the 'build slowly' approach that many think we should (or indeed are) adopt, pointing to the length of time O'Neill has been in charge as a reason to give Hughes time to develop 'his' squad, playing 'his' football.

Team wise, Emile Heskey will likely be absent tomorrow evening for the opposition, whilst we ourselves are hit by injuries in attack with both Craig Bellamy and Robinho ruled out leaving a suddenly light looking attacking threat. Valeri Bojinov of course returned on Sunday at West Ham but it is unrealistic to expect him to have an impact over the full ninety minutes just yet - although other options are not particularly appealing.

Defensively we have looked far more solid of late, with the addition of Shay Given solidifying the defence and Richard Dunne benefiting from his spell on the sidelines to come back fresh into the line-up. Our fortunes however will depend largely on the duo of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland. Both players form has been patchy of late if truth be told and they need to step up over the next month or so to compensate for the loss of other key players.

Both sides will fancy the win I imagine, but I see a frustrating evening for both sides, with the spoils being shared in a 1-1 draw.