Aston Villa v Sunderland, Wed 24 Mar 2010

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Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor has been ruled out of the Villa Park clash with Sunderland.

Agbonlahor is still struggling with the foot injury that forced him to miss last weekend's 2-2 draw against Wolves.

He suffered the injury in training last week when he opened up a ligament in a joint.

The England forward is to have tests to determine the full extent of the damage.

In the continued absence of Agbonlahor, John Carew and Emile Heskey will again lead the Villa attack.

Villa also have a doubt over their Republic of Ireland international central defender Richard Dunne, who is battling to recover from a sore Achilles that forced him off during the second-half of Villa's 2-2 draw against Wolves last weekend.

If Dunne is ruled out, Carlos Cuellar could move into the centre of defence with full-back with Luke Young on alert for a recall.

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has put his players on alert to stop Sunderland's in-form striker Darren Bent.

Following their 2-2 draw against Wolves at the weekend, Villa badly need a win to boost their hopes of finishing fourth and qualifying for next season's Champions League.

But O'Neill knows that Villa's hopes of beating Sunderland could depend on them keeping Bent and strike partner Kenwyne Jones in check.

Bent took his goal tally for the season to 21 with a double against Birmingham on Saturday and O'Neill has been impressed by the form that the England international has shown at the Stadium of Light following his #10million move from Tottenham.

He said: "I do agree that Bent has had a really terrific season and he has the goals to prove his point.

"It was a chance he was looking for at Tottenham to be playing pretty regularly, but with their strike force it didn't appear as if that was going to be at all possible.

"He has gone to Sunderland and proved himself, while Jones, on his day, is a real handful."

A Villa win would turn up the heat on Tottenham in fourth and O'Neill added: "We would be only two points behind Tottenham if we beat Sunderland and we are desperate to try and win the game against a rejuvenated Sunderland.

"The consequences are that we could close the gap again."

But O'Neill knows a win against Sunderland will be hard-earned as Steve Bruce's side have taken eight points from their last four games to ease their relegation fears.

"It is interesting that when a team begin lifting themselves out of a difficult situation it is amazing how quickly the confidence comes back," O'Neill added.

"For instance, if we had been playing this game three weeks ago they may have been looking over their shoulder to see where the next point is coming from.

"But they have stuck to their task, won a couple of games and in actual fact they are coming to Villa Park probably clear of relegation.

"They have to get one or two more points along the way but now have more confidence than they have had for the last two or three months."


Sunderland skipper Lorik Cana returns from suspension.

The Albania international is available once again after completing a two-match ban for reaching 10 bookings for the season.

Manager Bruce also hopes to have Jones (hip flexor) and John Mensah (knee) at his disposal.

Lee Cattermole and Jordan Henderson suffered no reaction to their respective returns as substitutes in Saturday's 3-1 win over Birmingham, for which Bolo Zenden (knee) made the bench, and Bruce has only Andy Reid (hamstring) still on the casualty list.

Bruce says he will use Villa as his template as he attempts to build lasting success at Sunderland.

Bruce said: "When I first went in at Birmingham we had a chance of overtaking them, we had beaten them four times and drawn with them twice since we had gone into the Premier League.

"But under Martin, with some good investment from the owner and some shrewd management, they have gone from being in the bottom half of the table - which they were for two, three, four years - all of a sudden now to competing in cup finals, semi-finals, competing for the Champions League.

"They have had a magnificent two or three years under Martin and if there are any parallels to be drawn, that's the example I would love to take.

"It's going to be difficult, but there is no reason why not."

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