West Brom-Aston Villa Preview

TOM BENNETT (STATS European Football Writer)
The Associated Press

Villa Park will host a midweek Midlands derby as Aston Villa play West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday.

Paul Lambert's Villa (6-6-10) went into the latest round of matches in 10th place in the Premier League, but just six points clear of the relegation zone and with only a single win in their last eight matches. However, looking back at a 2-2 draw with Liverpool last time out, the Villa boss praised the contribution of January signings Grant Holt and Ryan Bertrand (loan).

"The two lads who have come in have been excellent for us. Ryan came in and I thought he was excellent in the game. He hasn't played for a long time, but was terrific. He's fitted in great. Nothing will faze him, that's for sure.

"Holty has been fantastic around the place with us. He is a good guy and a good character. He did well when he came on. There's no doubt they have given us a lift. People probably questioned why we brought in Holty, but I knew what I was getting - on and off the pitch. He's been bubbly."

West Brom (4-10-8) are two points behind Villa but will be boosted by the arrival of new manager Pepe Mel, who saw his side take a point off Everton in his first match in charge. However, just four points separate the Baggies and the bottom three, meaning defeat in Wednesday's derby would leave them right in the middle of a relegation scrap.

"I think you need some experienced players in the team," said midfielder Zoltan Gera when asked about the team's chances of avoiding the drop. "It doesn't mean you need to be over 35, you need to read the game well and say the right things. We have enough experienced players.

"I think he is a nice man," added Gera about Mel. "He's told us clearly what he wants from us, which is a change in mentality. I think the players and the squad have reacted well. Everyone was so excited to play under the new head coach in the first game. The second half was better and I expect we will get better game by game."

Aston Villa have injury doubts over Gabriel Agbonlahor (ankle), Nathan Baker (concussion), Chris Herd (hamstring) and Joe Bennett (back), while Libor Kozak remains out with a broken leg. West Brom have doubts over Goran Popov (neck) and Gareth McAuley (hamstring).

Villa have scored a league-low eight goals at home, but West Brom have just a solitary win on the road since the start of the campaign.

It was a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture at the Hawthorns earlier in the season. Shane Long, who has since left the Baggies for Hull, scored twice in the opening quarter of an hour, but a second-half comeback earned Villa a point.