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McAllister to Lead Aston Villa Against Stoke

Aston Villa may have climbed out of the relegation danger with two wins in a row but the build-up to their clash with Stoke City on Saturday has been overshadowed by the news about Gerard Houllier.

The French manager was admitted to hospital after complaining of chest pains earlier in the week, a situation made worse as Houllier previously required emergency heart surgery in 2001.

The 63-year-old is currently at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and awaiting the verdict of further medical tests, meaning assistant manager Gary McAllister will take temporary charge of the side as they look to win three successive league games for the first time in a year. (Villa 10/11 with bookmakers to win the game)

Wins over Newcastle and West Ham in their last two matches have seen Villa climb from struggling relegation candidates to the heady heights of mid-table. However, even though they sit 10th in the league they are still not technically safe and need a couple more wins to make absolutely sure.

McAllister, who worked under Houllier as a player at Liverpool, reckons the scare surrounding the boss will not have put the Villa players off their preparations as they look to beat a Stoke side who have lost their last seven away games. (Stoke 7/2 to win the game, draw priced at 13/5)

"The facts are the manager is not here and I'm his assistant so I'll jump in and take the responsibility. The thing that makes it easier is we're on a decent little run and it's a good place to be. Confidence is high," the assistant boss added.

"Three or four games ago we were looking at and talking about safety, but now I think the target is catching [eighth-placed] Bolton."

McAllister has no injury concerns affecting his squad, but could give a start to Gabby Agbonlahor (6/1 to score the first goal) after the striker came off the bench to score the winner at struggling West Ham last time out.

Stoke, who thrashed Bolton 5-0 in their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley last weekend, need to get their league campaign back on track as they themselves sit only five points above the relegation places.

Danny Higginbotham and Mamady Sidibe are out with knee and Achilles problems respectively, while Abdoulaye Faye is back in contention after being out since February. Elsewhere, Tony Pulis will start with Asmir Begovic in goal at the expense of Thomas Sorensen.

Villa have not lost a home match with Stoke since November 1965 and could bring the Potters back down to earth with a bump from their Wembley high. Another win for Villa would could take them as high as eighth and provide some light relief after a hard week for all involved with the club.


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