Houllier plots White Hart Lane smash and grab

HEROES come in all shapes and sizes, and for fans of Aston Villa, that hero might well come in the guise of Gerard Houllier.

HEROES come in all shapes and sizes, and for fans of Aston Villa, that hero might well come in the guise of Gerard Houllier.

It may only be October, but it already feels like there have been enough twists and turns at Villa Park to fill an entire season, after the dramatic resignation of manager Martin O’Neill, and the sale of talismanic midfielder James Milner to Manchester City.

Then there was the 6-0 humiliation to newly-promoted Newcastle, a last-gasp defeat at Stoke City, and elimination from the Europa League at the hands of the not-so-mighty Austrians of Rapid Vienna – all before summer turned to autumn.

Enter Houllier, whose first act has been to set about rebuilding the confidence of Emile Heskey. Heskey, the striker who never scores, has been a favourite of Houllier ever since he signed the former Leicester City star for Liverpool for �11million a decade ago.


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Heskey was handed a substitute appearance for Villa’s Carling Cup game against Blackburn, and responded by netting his side’s third goal in a 3-1 win. Better followed on Sunday, when he headed a late winner against rivals Wolves.

‘Awesome’ was the word chosen by Houllier, who clearly knows how to get the best out of his powerhouse hitman.

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Houllier will most likely stick with the 4-4-1-1 formation which worked so effectively against Wolves, employing Ashley Young as a second striker feeding off Heskey, a potentially lethal combination of pace and power.

There are plenty of options in midfield. Villa’s game-plan primarily revolves around pace and creativity from the wings. Twenty-year-old right-winger Marc Albrighton enjoying a fine display at Molineux and likely to be given free-rein to run at the Tottenham defence.

On the opposite flank, England winger Stuart Downing is improving game on game and has three goals to his name already this season, and his deliveries from out wide will need to be shut down.

It is Villa’s central midfield which is arguably Houllier’s weak link. Milner scored 12 times in all competitions last season and leaves a big gap to fill, one which his replacement Stephen Ireland will need time to settle into.

Nigel Reo-Coker and Stilian Petrov are a solid – if unspectacular – pairing in the middle of the park, while ex-Chelsea and Reading man Steve Sidwell is another option, but there is a dearth of creativity from the middle of the park, and that is the area Spurs will look to capitalise on.

Villa’s defence could have done without the injury to Richard Dunne which looks likely to rule the Irishman out of Saturday’s match.

James Collins, who formed a strong partnership with Dunne last season as Villa finished sixth, should start at centre-back alongside Carlos Cuellar.

Luke Young has impressed at right-back, while Stephen Warnock is a cool presence at left-back and gets forward well, as he proved again against Wolves when he set up Heskey’s winner.

Verdict: It is still early days in Houllier’s reign, but he will have his side suitably fired up for their trip to north London.

It seems absurd to suggest that this is a ‘must not lose’ game so early in the season for Spurs, yet after slip-ups against Wigan, West Bromwich Albion and now West Ham it already has the feel of exactly that.

Prediction: Spurs 1

Aston Villa 1

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