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Crystal Palace (A) Sat 31 Jan 2015, 15:00, Barclays Premier League

Inside Track: Aston Villa


Welcome to the Inside Track. Everton's players are back from international duty and are hoping to make it four wins in five league games against Aston Villa at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Villa have struggled this season and find themselves in a relegation battle, the Birmingham Evening Mail's Gregg Evans provides an insight on a troubled campaign for the West Midlands club.

After three top six finishes in a row under Martin O'Neill, this season has seemed to be a bit of a disaster for Villa, what have you made of their campaign so far?

Disaster is the right word for it yes! It has been a real surprise to see them struggle so much, not many Villa fans would have expected their team to be so close to the relegation zone and on the same number of points as Blackpool.

But Villa have had problems this season, at the start of the campaign they had probably the worst injury crisis ever, particularly in midfield.

Villa had to blood youngsters like Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Delfouneso and Jonathan Hogg - only Albrighton and Clark have managed to keep their place.

Overall though it has been a disappointment.

Is it fair to say Gerard Houllier hasn't exactly won over the Aston Villa fans since taking over from Martin O'Neill?

Houllier has certainly come in for some heavy criticism since being appointed manager, he had a tough start and then there was the ill-fated return to Liverpool, when he said if he could lose 3-0 to anyone it would be Liverpool, which angered the fans.

At around the turn of the year he seemed to be winning the supporters over with some positive results and the signings of Darren Bent and Jean Makoun.

But things have been going wrong since the FA Cup exit to Man City (when Houllier left most of his key players on the bench) and everyone was frustrated that they had gone out in such a fashion.

There have been stories of player unrest at Villa, is there a feeling that Houllier has lost the dressing room?

It's hard to say whether he has or not but there has certainly been speculation that that is the case.

Houllier has introduced some new rules for the players, but Assistant Manager Gary McAllister has said they are the same rules he had at Liverpool.

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel has also come out and said that the players are not in revolt.

How serious is the threat of relegation from the Premier League for Aston Villa?

It's quite worrying - if you can't beat Wolverhampton Wanderers at home then you start to wonder where the points are going to come from.

You can't see Villa getting anything from Everton, they need to win games against the teams around them.

They've still got the likes of Wigan, West Brom and West Ham to play and they need to get points there.

How much pressure is there on record signing Darren Bent to fire Villa to safety?

There is a lot of pressure, Gabriel Agbonlahor has hit double figures in the last three seasons, but he has only scored two Premier League goals this term.

Darren Bent scored on his debut against Manchester City and they are going to rely on him to get the goals to take Villa to safety.

There have been calls for Houllier to play 4-4-2 but he insists on playing Ashley Young just in behind Bent.

How will Villa view the trip to Everton, they haven't lost to the Blues in their last nine league games?

They will know it's going to being a tough game. After a slow start to the season Everton have picked up lately and are finishing the season strongly.

Gerard Houllier will be hoping they don't concede early and that Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Darren Bent can cause problems at the other end.

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