Aston Villa Vs Newcastle United, Sat 17 Sep 2011

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Aston Villa will be without Emile Heskey and Jermaine Jenas for the home Barclays Premier League game against Newcastle.

Former England striker Heskey looks set to be out for two to three weeks with a pulled hamstring, while on-loan Tottenham midfielder Jenas also misses out this weekend after suffering a thigh injury in training.

Eric Lichaj is expected to be sidelined for three to four months after undergoing a hip operation. Fellow defender Carlos Cuellar is recovering well from a knee problem but lacks match fitness.

Newcastle full-back Davide Santon could be out of action for a month after suffering a cartilage injury which will require minor surgery.

The 20-year-old former Inter Milan defender will miss out on a chance to make his senior debut for the club, so utility man Ryan Taylor is likely to continue in what has been a problem position for manager Alan Pardew since Jose Enrique's summer departure for Liverpool.

Hatem Ben Arfa is back in training after his ankle injury but is unlikely to be risked at the weekend, although he could make the squad for Tuesday night's Carling Cup trip to Nottingham Forest, while Haris Vuckic (broken hand), Mehdi Abeid and Mike Williamson (broken arm) remain on the casualty list.

Pardew has challenged his players to defy the odds to retain their place in the in the Barclays Premier League's top four.

Not since the Bobby Robson era, when the Magpies finished fourth, third and fifth in successive seasons, have the Magpies rubbed shoulders so closely with English football's elite, and their current lofty status has come as a surprise to many.

Indeed, few would expect them to remain on the coat-tails of the Manchester clubs and Chelsea despite their hugely encouraging start to the new campaign.

However, Pardew insists they are there on merit and while he knows there are tougher tests to come, he insists there is no reason why they cannot stay in the upper reaches of the table.

He said with a smile: "I took my phone and got a picture of it [the league table] to make sure it was correct, and I will keep that.

"There's no sense of us getting carried away - I don't think that will ever happen under my management.

"It's about taking that belief into the games. That's where we are and that's where we deserve to be and from now on, that's where we have got to try to stay if we can."

Newcastle are where they are because they have conceded only one league goal in their four games to date, and that has been enough to secure draws with Arsenal and QPR and wins over Sunderland and Fulham.

But they have scored only three times themselves in the process and while the balance has been good enough during the opening weeks of the season, Pardew knows unless something changes, they will have to continue to keep clean sheets if they are to maintain that momentum.

He said: "The discipline in the squad has been the key and our defenders have been really at the top of their game.

"Where we sit right now, there is a huge dependence on them at the moment and we want to just change that, take some pressure off them and get a couple of goals here and there - or maybe three or four."

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Haris Vuckic
Hatem Ben Arfa
Ryan Taylor
Mike Williamson
League Cup
Emile Heskey
Premier League
Carlos Cuellar
Jose Enrique
Jermaine Jenas
Eric Lichaj
Aston Villa
Ryan Taylor

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