Aston Villa striker John Carew is poised to return for Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with Hull at Villa Park.

The Norwegian international missed the Carling Cup quarter-final victory over Portsmouth at Fratton Park in midweek with a hamstring strain.

Carew must wait to see whether he regains his starting spot as a resurgent Emile Heskey has netted twice in the past three games.

Central defender James Collins is again ruled out with a calf problem, meaning Carlos Cuellar will partner Richard Dunne at the heart of the back four.

Villa boss Martin O'Neill is looking for his side to maintain their push for European football at the expense of Phil Brown's side by turning a succession of draws into victories.

But he's aware that the Tigers have made vast improvements in the past months to climb out of the bottom three.

The former Celtic boss said: "The league is very important. We have to try and press on and turn some draws into victories.

"That is a top priority for us. We have got a really hectic programme up until the new year and we are trying to add a bit more consistency to our performances.

"Some of the draws have been very commendable but we are a couple of points short of where we were hoping to be.

"The Carling Cup win against Portsmouth was big for us and we will go into this game full of confidence."

O'Neill is a big fan of the way that Hull have managed to hold on to their top-flight status and the way they have galvanised their current campaign after early season problems.

He said: "Hull are playing fantastically well at the moment. They have won some important games and it is really good to see.

"It has been a remarkable story up there. I think expectations got high after the great start to last season.

"But most people would have settled for them staying in the division and now they have made great inroads in the past month or so."

Hull are again without midfielder Seyi Olofinjana.

The Nigeria international has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury but should return to training next week.

Bernard Mendy could be doubtful after suffering a knock in a midweek reserve outing.

Craig Fagan (rib) is back in contention but third-choice goalkeeper Tony Warner is unavailable due to his wife giving birth.

George Boateng believes Tigers chief Brown has become a better manager since Adam Pearson returned as club chairman last month.

Brown's job was thought to be on the line at the time of Pearson's appointment as his team had slipped into the bottom three of the Barclays Premier League.

But the situation has turned around with a four-game unbeaten run and Boateng feels the influence of Pearson, who has brought a pragmatic approach to club affairs, has filtered down.

Boateng, whose recent recall to the side has coincided with the good November run, said: "What has done the club very good recently is the change of the chairman.

"The change of the chairman has ultimately resulted in the manager managing the team better. He has said that too.

"Therefore the team has had better results and better performances over the past few weeks. It has been great for the team and everybody involved.

"Also for the manager, because he has had some stick, some bad press - I think he has handled that period well.

"The way to handle it is to get results and he is under no illusions results keep you in a job."

Boateng, 34, is now back in favour after being dropped following the 6-1 thrashing at Liverpool on September 26. He was left out of the squad altogether for four successive games before being brought back for the vital Stoke victory four weeks ago.

However, it was the return of another player in that same game, the club's record signing Jimmy Bullard, that sparked the on-pitch improvement.

"As a team you always need someone to give you a lift and that was Jimmy Bullard," added Boateng, who hopes to feature at former club Villa.

"I think Jimmy's return was perfect for the club, in combination with the new chairman and the manager's new ideas and positive feeling. That resulted in the team picking up more points."

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Topics:
Jimmy Bullard
Portsmouth
Stoke City
Tony Warner
Football
John Carew
League Cup
Emile Heskey
Premier League
Carlos Cuellar
Craig Fagan
Richard Dunne
Bernard Mendy
James Collins
Aston Villa
Hull City
Liverpool
George Boateng