Villa’s attacking style can cause any side problems

Widemen pose a pacy threat to defenders

Aston Villa have been this year’s Premier League surprise package. But for all the wrong reasons.

After the mysterious departure of Martin O’Neill, just five days before the start of the season, Villa have experienced one of their worst seasons in recent years.

Having finished sixth in their two previous campaigns, the West Midlands outfit currently occupy 14th place, thanks to a 1-0 home win over Newcastle last weekend, lifting them five points clear of the relegation places.

Following O’Neill’s departure, the board appointed Gerard Houllier and the Frenchmen has had to work hard to win round the fans and apparently the dressing room.

Houllier was allowed to spend some of the �24million Villa received from the summer sale of James Milner to Manchester City, on securing the services of Darren Bent from Sunderland in a �18million deal.

The England striker was brought in to add much-needed firepower to Villa’s misfiring frontline and has scored five times since his January arrival.

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Villa’s problem this season, much like the Hammers, has been inconsistency.

Alongside credible results, such as a 3-3 draw away to Chelsea, they have lost at home to Sunderland and relegation-threatened Wolves, as well as drawing at home to Fulham and Bolton – two sides a top-six team should be beating.

On the road, Villa have struggled to pick up points, winning just twice and losing nine times.

Villa’s season has been such a shock due to the supposed quality of their squad, that have for one reason or another failed to perform and deliver.

For example, Ashley Young, who recently shone for England against Ghana at Wembley, has had a hot and cold season as has his compatriot and fellow wideman Stewart Downing.

Up front, Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor have often failed to score while Robert Pires hasn’t been able to recreate the Premier League form of his Arsenal days.

Defensively, Villa are quite a tight side, with former Hammer James Collins marshalling the defence alongside Richard Dunne.

Captain Stiliyan Petrov is influential in midfield, while Kyle Walker, currently on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, is a constant attacking threat from right back.

Villa are a team that like to play attacking football.

Their main threat comes from the wings, with Downing and Young providing crosses and often cutting in to shoot.

Stopping the widemen will be vital if West Ham are to win on Saturday. Wayne Bridge and either Lars Jacobsen or James Tomkins will need to be at their best to stop Villa’s supply to Darren Bent.

In the centre of the midfield, West Ham should try to make their extra man count, with Young and Downing caught higher up the pitch.