Villa boss keeps faith in youth

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Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier insists his young team have proven they are up to the challenge of Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final derby against Birmingham.

Blues fans will create a hostile atmosphere at St Andrew's but Houllier is adamant the young players in his injury-ravaged side will not let it affect them.

"They are not kids, they are men, like the others," he said. "For example, you can't say that Barry Bannan is a kid, he plays for his national team now. He's grown up. They lack a bit of experience, but they have many other weapons."

He added: "One of the key factors to win games is hunger and desire, and that is why I like some young players in the team. They show that every single second. They never let you down."

Houllier paid tribute to Ciaran Clark, the 21-year-old defender who has stepped into central midfield to ease Villa's injury crisis, which has been worsened by the news that Stephen Ireland will be unavailable for the match due to sickness.

Clark scored both of his team's goals in Saturday's 4-2 defeat against Arsenal, and his manager said that when he arrived at the club, he was immediately impressed by the youngster's quality.

"I saw that very quickly, because I played him at centre back against Blackburn and he looked a player" Houllier said.

The Frenchman added that he wasn't yet sure of Clark's best position.

"He's young, he can run, he can play, so I'm pleased to see him in the midfield," he said.

"At the moment, I've got two good centre backs, but he's a good player so I'm using him as a defensive midfielder because he can pass, he can score as he's shown and he reads the game well. I also like his work-rate and attitude."

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